The ”Catch 22” of Organizational Structure, Talent & Innovation


Photo by LYCS Architecture on Unsplash

At first glance, organizational structure may not appear to be an exciting concept.

Yet, an HBR post discussing how established organizations just can’t seem to keep pace with start-ups in the innovation arena — has caught my attention. It seems clear that the innovation dilemma has a fundamental relationship with the traditional elements of organizational structure, and how those elements develop and solidify over time. One key system which affects the potential to innovate: How organizations secure needed talent.

Structure and Maturation
As an organization matures, many systems within the traditional structure can become rigid. Communication channels become formalized, salary levels are set. On one hand, organizations become a safer and more secure place for employees. But, unwanted by-products such as inflexibility come along with this territory. Ultimately this affects how talent is sourced, limiting the ability of a maturing organization to effectively evolve and innovate.

Ideally, the talent equation begins with leadership and the work at hand, where leaders have the responsibility of translating vision into specific goals and tasks. These tasks in turn, require a set of needed talent elements for completion. Often, the necessity to forecast these talent requirements can become a looming challenge for hiring managers and the entire HR function, which supports that search.

The Catch
The simple truth is that mining talent through traditional channels can take too much time — where a mature organization may not be nimble enough to find needed talent quickly to meet the demands key challenges. But, the clock is ticking if they hope to remain competitive. It’s time vs. talent — and options which provide a more direct route to source and onboard needed talent are required.

Gaining the right perspective is a great place for an organization to begin. In a previous post, I discussed a prediction by Gartner concerning the application of work swarming within organizations. This is a concept which implies that the structure of an organization must flex to allow needed talent to gather quickly (and organically) to tackle projects. The process should allow not only talent from within the organization to gather, but from the broader external environment as well.

Breaking Down Walls
Extending the “virtual walls” of an organization can greatly expand the talent horizon. One interesting option is to leverage contacts within the  industry, or related industries who might possess relevant knowledge concerning a project or subject. One view which has been posed is to collaborate with suppliers to source talent and solve key problems.

Another method of sourcing talent would be to build or access a talent community, a method which capitalizes on the advantages of social media and employee networks when searching for needed skill sets. In this way, an organization develops an extended talent network which can be tapped as needed. Members of the community can be quite varied and can include potential contributors, such as freelancers or those working in related settings.

Another avenue would be to utilize crowdsourcing techniques to staff specific projects. In this way, organizations  bypass portions of the traditional HR hierarchy to enable them to address talent issues in real-time. When a problem or challenge exists, it is placed in an open forum, and staffed.  Of course, there are issues that the organization would have address to maximize this process, but the potential seems apparent. (Platforms such as InnoCentive, have been already been successful in facilitating specific open innovation challenges for mature organizations.)

Possible Snafus
The overall goal of applying these methods is for the organization to have the capability of retaining that innovative “edge”, long beyond the start-up phase. In a sense, slowing down the solidification of a counter productive elements which deter talent from reaching an organization in a timely manner. The process would have to be perfected. Here are few issues that come to mind:

  • What types of projects or challenges would be more appropriate for these solutions?
  • How do we effectively track KSA’s? (Knowledge, Skills and Abilities)
  • What specific legal steps must an organization take to make this happen?
  • Overall, how will HR help to guide the process?

The future of innovation within mature organizations is certainly dependent on finding needed talent. Hopefully, with collective thought we can improve opportunities for more established organizations to find that talent more readily, and retain their potential to innovate and excel.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. Contact her practice at You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

10 thoughts on “The ”Catch 22” of Organizational Structure, Talent & Innovation

  1. I seriously love your site.. Pleasant colors & theme.
    Did you make this web site yourself? Please reply back as I’m trying to create my own personal website and would love to know where you got this from or what the theme is called. Appreciate it!


  2. Jim,
    Thanks so much for reading. I agree 100% – intrapreneurship is indeed an often overlooked option. I too, believe that our employees often hold the solutions to many of our challenges.


  3. There is actually talent galore within the existing personnel to provide innovation. Intrapreneurs abound in our society. They often are average people who are on the payroll who have insights galore about how to move the company forward. They are folks who you would never expect to be cutting edge based on what they have been hired in to do.
    Intrapreneurship is a phenomenon waiting to be discovered. I know. I am one.
    Jim Terpstra
    Altrapreneurial Strategist
    The Truing Group


  4. Talent forecasting is tricky business – a weak leak, so to speak – in the talent pipeline. I am not hopeful that will ever change. In fact, the the time allowed will most likely become truncated as organization need to become more responsive.

    As a result, organizations will need to develop different mechanisms to fill their vital talent needs.

    Thank you for your insightful comments. I agree that we have a journey in front of us to accomplish these changes. But, I feel it will be worthwhile.

    Simply putting the ideas out there, is the first step to changing how things work. I will try to speak about this wherever I can during 2013.

    It is up to us to start that “movement”.

    Thank you so much for reading.


  5. Great article. I would love to hear your view on a couple of additional aspects. Forecasting talent requirements for instance. This is where I believe some of the challenges might already start for larger organizations. Using the traditional recruitment process, means we are probably likely to get more of the same we already have.
    And if you want to foster an innovative culture, it might require a change management that spans across the whole company, including HR. An outside in view on the company rather than an inside out view might help in that process.

    Secondly, to implement some of the ideas you suggest to acquire talent, might require a more profound culture change. Rigid structures you find in larger companies might be related to a desire to control everything, this could be counter-productive especially when dealing with innovation.

    Similar to the points you raise at the end of your article, sourcing in talent or even crowd-sourcing will require new approaches, selected projects, and maybe experimenting in selected parts of the company.

    Finally, going to HR, this is often one of the most rigid and inflexible parts of larger companies. I think to deal with talent and innovation, HR functions will require a profound change. HR functions need to move away from the pure admin related functions to a more integrated function working in closer cooperation with the rest of the organization.


  6. That is an excellent observation, Ken. Innovation is a mindset that requires cultivation. As with other organizational development efforts, it can time for the behaviors to seem more routine. Thanks for your insight.


  7. Great advice, Dr. Gottschalk. Another pointer I would like to add is to incorporate some method or incentive to keep these behaviors ongoing. Innovation doesn’t have to be a one-time deal; a consistently active process may help in cultivating new ideas. A common issue for implementing new activities in the workplace is that they can easily be overwhelmed by old habits within a few months to a year.


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