Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 18 – bringing innovators into a business and keeping them there 1

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on January 25, 2016

This is my eighteenth 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 1-17.)

I have been discussing innovators and what they do over the course of the last three installments to this series. And as a starting point for this installment’s contribution to that progression, I repeat a set of organizing definitions here that I have been building from in this narrative. Innovators per se can be readily divided into two porous groups:

Initial catalyst innovators, who come up with disruptively innovative new ideas and who take at least the first steps into developing practical, realized products out of them, and
Follow-through development innovators, who primarily serve to refine and improve, facilitating the turning of those initial ideas with their potential, into realized marketable, profitable sources of value. And these innovators evolve and improve once-disruptively innovative product ideas and approaches to keep them competitively viable too.

I refer to these groups as porous because while they are separate and distinct for what people in them do, individuals who participate in innovation according to one of these patterns can switch to pursuing the second of them as well. And many innovators in fact do that and in both directions.

I focused on initial catalyst innovators in Part 15 and Part 16, and on follow-through development innovators in Part 17, and on what they respectively do. And then at the end of Part 17 I stated that I would continue that line of discussion by switching directions to consider bringing innovators into a business and keeping them there, where supporting their drive to innovate can be one of the most powerful incentives for achieving those goals that are available for most businesses. And this means identifying and hiring potential new employees who hold significant innovative potential. And just as importantly, this means addressing the challenge of identifying employees that a business already has onboard too, who have innovative potential and drive that are being wasted in them for lack of opportunity for them to thrive to the full of their capabilities.

I begin this line of discussion with hiring and its challenges, and by noting a set of observations that any Human Resources director in any innovative business would probably find quite familiar:

• It can be challenging to find and secure the best new hire employees who would work in more routine and standardized positions, where innovation per se is not a high priority requirement. And this challenge begins with drafting an effective and accurate job description and then runs through the candidate screening and selection, the interviewing and the actual hiring processes. This, I add, represents only a routine baseline level of challenge, and even if that can be significant when trying to fill high priority job openings and vacancies in fields and work areas where there is more demand than supply, and certainly for highly qualified candidates.
• It is harder to find and secure really good follow-through development innovators. First, there are always much fewer of them that there are solid, reliable workers who are good at following set patterns and established processes and procedures, but who can really only do that. And second, it is always easier to write job descriptions for settled and consistent work positions than it is for work positions that by their very nature are going to be more mutable and changing. It is not, for example, always going to be readily apparent in advance, what direction a more effective development and improvement effort might move in, when starting with an initial breakthrough innovation and developing it into a more practical and profitable product line. And even experts in the hiring field might not know what to look for in a new hire here, and certainly if they are more oriented towards managing standard hire employees and if they are more of that mindset themselves.
• And it is much harder still, to recognize and understand the occasional initial catalyst innovator for the strengths they could offer, where by their very nature they are not going to fit smoothly and comfortably into a simple settled standard employee, cookie cutter pattern.

When I write here about hiring innovators and people with real innovative potential, I write about the most difficult of all hiring challenges. Most employees in most businesses fit standard patterns and can be readily identified, interviewed, evaluated for appropriateness and hired routinely and by essentially any managers and Human Resources personnel with at least basic experience and skills in this. Follow-through development innovators do not fit into the same standardized patterns that these new hire gatekeepers would more routinely use. And real, genuine initial catalyst innovators, by their very nature are all essentially unique. There are some qualities and background details that they do tend to hold in common, but they are not of the type that would fit into anything like the standard new hire profile that is usually in place.

• This is a context where people really do more readily recognize others who are more like themselves. If you want to find innovators and bring them into your business, involve real innovators in this process.
• If you do not have the right people for that in-house, with both innovative track records and management and hiring experience, bring in this expertise when addressing this type of hiring challenge by identifying and bringing in appropriate outside consultant advisors, by using a specialty new hire employee search firm with experience in this, or both.
• And for the most challenging of these new hire situations: bringing in an initial catalyst innovator, be willing to think outside of the box of your usual candidate selection criteria and be willing to accept the risk that their next innovation efforts might not work out.
• And this approach offers you an increased chance of success in finding and bringing in innovative new hires but it is most likely going to be biased towards finding people who already have established track records of accomplishment there – who are more likely to already be working, and for businesses that would make a real effort to retain them. This still leaves open the challenge of finding really innovative potential hires who are still early in their careers.

Look at the work record of the people who you would consider hiring, and for positive recommendations from sources who know them professionally and through all of the other more standard metrics that would be used to predict likely job performance and workplace compatibility moving forward. But throw a wider net and look for creativity and even signs of disruptively innovative creativity beyond that too.

• And to illustrate the challenges faced there, remember that your most promising innovative candidates who you would benefit the most from, might have mixed track records of knowing their field and having skills that really matter – but of not really fitting in, and certainly in workplace contexts where routine and rote are the desired norm. Look for potential in at least somewhat disruptive and certainly somewhat different, “non-standard” packages and for people who would challenge you and your business to think and act differently – and who look to have the potential for making that work.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next installment where I will delve into the use of social media as a source of insight into prospective new hire candidates, among other resources that are available for this. Then after finishing my discussion of hiring new employees for their innovative potential, I will discuss retaining them, and then the challenge of finding new innovative potential in your current workforce. In anticipation of that discussion, I note here that a big part of that effort can be grounded in giving your current employees an opportunity to self-identify themselves as innovators and both for how you allow them to connect and communicate in-house and for how you enable them to explore and pursue creative new ideas and projects as part of their work there.

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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