Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 10 – involving the crowd as a source of competitive advantage 5

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on May 30, 2015

This is my tenth installment in a series on cultivating and supporting innovation and its potential in a business, by cultivating and supporting the creative and innovative potential and the innovative drive of your employees and managers, and throughout your organization (see HR and Personnel – 2, postings 215 and loosely following for Parts 1-9.)

I began discussing how crowdsourced information and insight can improve employee hiring and retention in Part 9 of this series. And in that regard I note that these additional sources of business intelligence become more and more important as new and non-standard types of employees are required and sought out. And they become equally important for more effectively retaining these high value employees once they are hired too.

I began discussing those issues in more general terms in Part 9, and then stated at the end of that posting that I would delve into some of their details here. And I will at least begin to do so in this posting, addressing in turn:

• Some of the core issues and approaches that are available for determining what skills and types of experience you might need next, in-house in building for your business’ competitive future,
• And how to more effectively use online social media as a source of insight, both in resolving that starter question and in finding the right candidates to reach out to for this.
• And after that I will, of course also address relevant staff retention issues too, with that including a discussion of better understanding which positions and employees are most crucial now and which will be needed moving forward for their special qualifications,
• And how best to meet the needs and requirements of these employees in retaining them on-staff, that would both work for these key employees and for the business as a whole.

And as a starting point for addressing all of these issues, outside social media and in-house intranet-based social media resources can both offer significant value and particularly where they are tapped into coordinately for these staffing optimization purposes.

I am going to discuss the above-listed issues, and then after at least briefly delving into their details I will discuss business intranets and how they can be developed in ways that facilitate managing them. And I will coordinately discuss mechanisms for more effectively tapping into and connecting with both in-house and outside crowdsourced channels in doing this too.

And I begin all of this with that first bullet point of my above list and the issues of knowing what special skills and types of experience you might need next, in-house in more effectively moving your business forward. And I divide that area of discussion into two critical staffing needs and employee search domains:

• Looking for the right people with highly in-demand skills and real world experience using them, and not just classroom training in these new and still emerging technologies, that would be required in order to keep a business current with unfolding best practices already appearing in its business vertical and in its industry, and
• Looking for the right people who can go beyond simply using publically available new technologies in more predictable ways. This means looking for special, non-standard employees who can innovatively develop new and next-step technologies in-house, and who can use them in combination with more established technologies in novel and disruptively new ways, in solving problems that most others had never even brought into focus as being available for specific resolution.

The first of these two points represents the race that businesses enter into to keep from getting left behind by their competitors, and to keep from becoming out of date in their markets. The second is where a business would build capacity to create the disruptively new, and even entirely blue ocean capabilities and opportunities that would hold transformative potential for them. Hiring to meet this bullet point’s needs means hiring from among those rare few who are recurringly disruptively innovative and who would be most likely to help the business they work for to create that next cutting edge new, that others would then seek to emulate as per the first bullet point. And as noted in the second of these bullet points itself this means hiring non-standard new employees where a standard, more cookie-cutter approach would specifically automatically exclude precisely those people most needed.

Let’s consider computer and internet software technology and the potential employees that would hold one or the other of these special skills and abilities capabilities, as a source of working examples. I choose that as a working area for developing this discussion because it represents one of the most clear-cut contexts where what a person knows and what they can personally do, represents the specific defining cutting edge that a hiring business would seek to develop and maintain per se. Little of the specific technology advantage they seek to establish particularly rests in the computer hardware their employees would use in their software development work and certainly in comparison to the value added by what the right employees bring with them in using that hardware.

Meeting the hiring goals that would go into satisfying the first of those two points is by far the easier of the two, there. First of all, the basic skills sought after in the first bullet point’s context are already at least relatively clearly enumerated as they represent specific skills and know-how that essentially every other business is looking for too. The history of computer software has been a history of the consecutive emergence of a flood of next step “best and new”, where a next new “must have” might take the form of some new computer language or language add-on, cutting edge skills in using some new software development tool or development platform, new and emerging algorithm design skills, or similar.

And this brings me to a set of basic due diligence questions that become important there:

• Highly competitively sought after skills and experience sets, and the people who hold them become expensive to hire and bring in-house. The best candidates for them face what amounts to a seller’s market and often receive multiple job offers when they are actively in the market for a new job. So how important is it to bring in this specific set of next new cutting edge skills, when you have to decide where to focus your staffing attentions and you are considering a new and perhaps heavily hyped entry into that field?

This is all a matter of knowing what your business is doing now, and with an eye towards thinking through where you would best go next, in maintaining or expanding your competitive position in your market. There are always going to be more next and better technologies entering the market than you would be able to bring effectively into your business, and even for the largest and most diverse businesses if they seek to maintain an effective focus on what they do and on where they can best create value, and both for themselves and for their customer base and marketplace.

• What should your business expand into as it diversifies and grows into new technical capabilities, that would fit into your strategic understanding of what you do now and that would add strategically considered value for being selectively included in your business’ overall range of productive capabilities?
• And how should you prioritize these decisions?

Addressing these questions calls for stakeholder input, and both from the technology providing line on your table of organization: here, your Information Technology department, and from end-user stakeholders – and I will come back to this when discussing how social media can offer value here. But returning to this line of discussion, once you have an idea as to how to answer these questions for your current and emerging now, you face at least two key validation questions:

• How much and what types of hands-on, real world experience should a prospective new hire have for a new technology that you see significant need to bring in-house, before you would consider hiring them?
• And closely related to that, how much additional compensation should you offer a candidate who meets your basic requirements of being a good fit for your business, according to how much experience and demonstrated success they have had with this new technology?

The baseline for these questions would arise when considering potential job candidates who have had classroom and educational program experience with a new sought-after technology but who have never had opportunity to use it on the job, except perhaps more briefly in the course of an internship as part of their training. Paid workplace experience would designate greater value, and particularly where that means a job candidate being able to claim quantifiable monetary value-creating success from specific work they have performed with this new technology. And this would raise the bar that the market would bear as far as median compensation that would have to be offered for these candidates, above that baseline level. And once again, online business intelligence, including the selective gathering and vetting of social media sourced insight can offer real value here too.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment by considering the more difficult challenge of hiring with a specific goal of developing more innovative and even disruptively new capabilities in a business. And then I will at least begin to delve into the issues raised by my second top of posting, to-address point from above:

• More effectively using online social media as a source of insight, both in knowing what to hire for, and to more effectively find the right candidates with those now-needed skills.

I will consider that for both the more common scenario of identifying and hiring for the right, more widely sought newest and best technologies to bring in-house, and for hiring for innovative and out of the box excellence where there is no comparable road map available as to what to look for. And in anticipation of my next installment discussion of these to-address issues, I will specifically look into the due diligence questions that I have raised here in this posting, and the question of how to more fully resolve them by throwing a wider business intelligence gathering net, that includes tapping into social media resources. I will also discuss employee and key employee retention in this context, as just bringing the right people into a business is only part of the challenge here; you have to be able to hold onto them too.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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