Innovation is the future of work. As the U.S. adapts its competitive advantages to the 21st Century, innovation and re-invention are more and more the everyday reality for American companies. Our universities and colleges are producing a bright, motivated workforce skilled in automation, artificial intelligence, robotics, and a myriad of other fields that will define the future of industry in our country. With access to advanced software, cutting-edge tools, and the ubiquity of tech like commercial-scale 3d printing, this is an exciting time for companies looking to carve their niche or expand on their past success.
Question the Sacred
If there’s a rhetorical enemy to innovation it’s the phrase “that’s how we do it.” For most companies I work with, the recruiting process is older than the carpets in the break room, so it’s the first place companies need to turn when adopting or encouraging a culture of innovation. If it’s been more than a year since you’ve examined it, chances are your recruiting process needs some work. A modern best-in-class recruiting process combines marketing strategies, data analytics, technology, and people. Posting ads on LinkedIn or job boards simply isn’t enough to engage with the best passive talent in the market.
If you want to make an omelette, you gotta break some eggs. When striving to construct a culture of innovation in your organization, don’t let the status quo stand in the way of progress and don’t be afraid to question convention. Look to outside resources including recruiters, competitors, and industry organizations (i.e. SHRM) for ways to improve the efficiency and positive outcomes of your recruiting process.
A careening coal cart might be heading in the right direction, but there’s bound to be a mess when it reaches the end. I often see growth-stage companies barreling full speed ahead without a plan to sustain their success. Whether you’ve accidentally found yourself on the cutting-edge or are purposefully bucking the status quo, you’ve got to start with clearly defined goals so you can parse the hard and soft skills your employees and candidates will need to achieve success.
When interviewing candidates who will become a part of your growth, it’s important to clearly define what it is you’re looking for and how those skills will contribute to your goals. “Innovation” is so overused in marketing it’s almost become meaningless. Define what innovation means for you and then define the skills necessary to achieve your specific goals.
Not everyone has to be an innovator
Even in a company obsessed with innovation and growth, there is room for individuals who don’t have big ideas. Your ideal team will include support players who are competent, consistent, and willing to adapt to moderate change. The most important characteristics of these individuals are teamwork, communication, reliability, and adaptability. You don’t need every employee to be prolific during brainstorming. You do need employees who will cooperate with new initiatives and support your goals as you continue to innovate and improve.
While not everyone has to be an innovator, everyone has to be a team-player. I often see departments held back by a single employee who refuses to change they way they operate to the detriment of the entire company. Innovation can be hurt by strong wills, just as much as it can be helped by them.
Look for people who can tolerate frustration
One of the most overlooked soft skills in my experience is emotional intelligence. Despite the fact that nearly every company I speak with has some kind of behavioral assessment as part of their recruiting process, emotional competence – particularly the ability to manage frustration- is never considered past a cursory question or two. There is no progress without failure. Any company that truly innovates, that takes risks and sets ambitious goals, will experience failure at some point. These failures will range from frequent nuisances to occasional catastrophes and when they occur, you will need team players that manage their emotions, set a positive leadership example, and focus on solutions over problems. Ask potential candidates how they’ve learned from their failures and pay special attention to people who have managed mistakes with calm and confidence.
Hiring innovative leaders
It goes without saying that great leaders are required for a culture of innovation, but what does that look like? Innovative leaders are skilled in more than just big ideas, they also tend to be emotionally intelligent, cooperative, team-builders. Real leaders are people who support communication and encourage the proliferation of ideas to help the company better achieve its goals.They are team-builders and facilitators, rather than lone wolves, and they hold themselves accountable as much (or more) than they do others.
It’s a common misconception that great leaders never follow. On the contrary, the best leaders understand there is a time to listen and a time to speak. We’ve all seen examples of “big” personalities like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, iconoclasts whose occasionally abrasive qualities might be outweighed by their achievements. The truth is that most people prefer to work for respectful and pleasant leaders, and there’s no reason that should preclude innovation. Bill Gates, for example, is famously pleasant to work for and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better living example of an innovative leader.
Respect and kindness are rarely mentioned in a business context, and rarer still when talking about innovation, but I personally believe that a company culture that is tolerant of failures and welcoming to ideas from all employees, is a culture more likely to achieve sustainable innovation from a motivated and empowered workforce.
It’s easy to talk about innovation. If asked, many of your potential candidates will describe themselves as ambitious, creative, and skilled. So how do you recognize a true innovative player in the crowd?
In addition to hard skills – the skills and abilities necessary to execute the job function – your best candidates are highly competent in a variety of soft skills like communication, emotional intelligence, and creativity. Candidates with these soft skills are more likely to adapt quickly to change, communicate effectively with their team and superiors, and manage the variety of challenges that growth-stage companies encounter. You can read a lot more about soft skills in last week’s post The 4 Most Important Soft Skills for a Culture of Innovation.
Your ideal candidate is probably not looking for a job. That’s why in our work with growth-stage innovators we focus almost exclusively on recruiting passive candidates. This presents a challenge to organizations whose primary recruitment resources are job boards and LinkedIn. Luckily, there’s a simple strategy to find what you’re looking for.
It’s simple, but it’s not easy. At Purple Tree, we start by developing a Candidate Persona, a document that describes our ideal candidate for the position including their skill set, their demographic and psychographic information, and the key factors about the job that are most likely to align with their goals.
From there, we leverage data analytics and our database of 10,000+ professionals to create a channel marketing strategy that includes social media marketing, email marketing, and direct outreach. By analyzing the behaviors and preferences of candidates, we can craft marketing messages, pay-per-click ad campaigns, and other job marketing assets that are likely to generate interest with your target audience. In short, we build a profile of an innovator and we aggressively pursue them.
(There’s my sales pitch, by the way. Hire us and we’ll do the work for you!)
The challenge comes when companies try to replicate this process on their own because most companies aren’t set up for candidate analytics the way Purple Tree is. In this case, you’ll have to leverage what is available. Chances are someone in your company is already collecting this kind of data for an entirely different audience: your customers. Talk to your marketing managers about extending your marketing and website analytics to include your job marketing efforts and look to your current employees for help building Candidate Personas. For more about how to implement these strategies, I recommend starting with this article on data collection in the recruiting process.
We’ve covered a lot here and only brushed the surface of building a culture of innovation. Luckily, this is the kind of thing we work on everyday and we’re always working on new content and new perspectives for companies in growth-mode. I’d love to hear what you think. Leave a comment below and click the link to subscribe to receive updates when we publish a new article.