Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 21 – bringing innovators into a business and keeping them there 4

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on May 2, 2016

This is my twenty first 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 1-20.)

I focused in Part 19 and Part 20 on approaches to throwing a wider net in seeking out non-standard, innovative new employees, and on better understanding what you need in this: what types of innovative focus and strength you need to bring into your business.

Then at the end of Part 20, I said that I would “take this discussion out of the abstract in the next series installment by posing two examples: one in product development and the other in business process innovation.” And that is what I will add to this ongoing flow of discussion here, with at least brief discussion of:

• A product and service innovation example, where I will focus on New in a rapidly changing high technology field, and on bringing new sources of innovative excellence into that process, and
• Business process innovation, where I will focus on lower level and middle managers who have been given a measure of opportunity in the course of their work lives and who have actively worked to develop and implement newer and better in their business practices, as for example in satellite offices or separate functional teams that they have managed.

I could just as easily discuss the first of these hiring challenges in terms of either hands-on non-managerial inventors and innovators, or in terms of innovation-oriented product development managers who have proven themselves with their own hands-on efforts but who have also developed skills in managing others as they innovate too. I will focus here on the later of those options as true innovators who also have management and leadership skills are going to be much more likely to succeed, and in both initiating new innovation and in successfully transferring it into wider business practice and into realized marketable product production. At the very least, your hands-on innovators need managers who will champion them and what they do, and help facilitate the process of creating business-wide acceptance of and support of the New that they initiate. And I add that effective innovators who have management capability too, are even rarer and harder to find than are really creative, primarily hands-on innovators.

I will begin addressing this first candidate identification and hiring challenge, and the first innovative candidate search scenario that feeds into addressing it with traditional resumes and cover letters, and by making note of an old adage: success has a thousand fathers while failure is an orphan. Let’s apply that observation to the resume context. And in that, I only assume that at the very least, large numbers of the people submitting resumes to your business, prepare and submit at least reasonably effectively written documentation as they seek to market themselves to you as top-choice job candidates – reasonably effective from their job search perspective.

See my series: Finding Your Best Practices Plan B When Your Job Search isn’t Working, as can be found at the first directory page to this blog’s Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, postings 56-72 for a step by step discussion of how to systematically plan and carry out a strategically considered job search and see in particular, with this “other side of the table” posting’s perspective in mind, its Parts 5-8 for a discussion of how to write a better, more compelling resume as a job search marketing tool. If it is important for prospective job candidates to present resumes that would rise to the top as hiring managers and HR personnel select out their top candidates to bring in for interviews, it is just as important for those business personnel to filter out and select the actual best, as would be called for in addressing their business’ needs. And when simply filtering by key words and other readily automated means cannot suffice, as is the case here, this means really understanding both how to read around any weaknesses in how candidates present themselves, and past particularly effective marketing in that too.

Now let’s consider that adage and its application in this context, with consideration as to how prospective job candidates present themselves, in mind:

• Effective resumes and other job candidate marketing materials highlight and emphasize professional success, and positive points of achievement.
• Everyone who participated in creating or developing, marketing, producing, or selling a significantly successful innovation or related development that arose in a current or former place of employment, will list that on their resumes and often even if they were only peripherally involved in making that achievement happen. And where possible they will quantify the success of this overall effort, further highlighting its value and significance. This leaves the open question as to how much of this success actually, specifically took place because of their particular contributions to it.
• Reviewing resumes, and I add cover letters per se can indicate the general range and depth of skills and experience that a prospective candidate might be bringing to the table with them. And if, for example, you need innovative new talent that would contribute to some particular skills or technology-intensive area you can always sound them out and test them on that to gauge their actual skills and experience levels there.
• Reviewing resumes per se, and I add those cover letters here too, can help you to identify people who have at the very least been actively in the room when a successful innovation was taking place and who at the very least self-identify as having the essential basic skills and experience that you are looking for as your threshold candidate requirements.
• Social media and particularly interactive professionally oriented social media can give you more of an idea as to how these people think, and how effectively they communicate what they think.
• And all of this can both help you to filter out good choices to interview by phone and face to face, and at the same time give you ideas as to precisely what you need to ask them about and sound them out on, so you can learn what you really need to know in making your hiring decisions.

I have written this primarily in terms of product and service innovators, and I noted details such as communications skills in the above points at least in part because this candidate search is presented as a search for a great new hire with both hands-on and management skills, and who holds potential to go further in both. But I add here, to more fully address this basic challenge, that strictly hands-on non-managerial innovators need good communications skills too if their innovations are to get anywhere. So most all of the points that I made here are in fact broadly applicable in any job candidate search, and certainly where a new hire would work in ways and on tasks and projects that do not simply fit into standard, business as usual patterns.

To repeat what is perhaps the core lesson point of Part 20, know what you are in fact actually looking for and what you need to find in a best candidate in order to reach that complex goal. So think in terms of hands-on technical issues, and sound out how creative and wide-ranging your job applicants are in that regard as you conduct your candidate search. But sound them out as to their management approaches and both from their own hands-on experience and from what they have learned from others: positive and negative. I repeat here a point that I have made many, many times over the years. My own best teachers in management and leadership and on how to do them better have in many cases come from the worst case examples that I have had to deal with, and at times find ways around.

• So look for tact in addressing positives and negatives, but tact with candor too. And that means showing both of these traits yourself, and certainly in any telephone or face to face interviews. Be open and candid and relaxed about all of this, and give the people you are considering an opportunity to match that too.
• In this regard, always remember that when you are interviewing and evaluating a possible new hire, the candidates you meet with are just as actively interviewing you as a possible employer and boss.

I have already touched upon a lot of points here, that would go into any real discussion of the second, business process innovation example that I said I would discuss. But I will more explicitly and directly look into that hiring scenario in my next series installment. And picking up on a point that I alluded to in Part 20 when I first said that I would address these example hiring scenarios in detail, I will consider this hiring challenge in a “outsource versus hire” context. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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