Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Don’t invest in ideas, invest in people with ideas 26 – bringing innovators into a business and keeping them there 9

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on October 24, 2016

This is my 26th 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 1-25.)

I have been developing a taxonomy of types of innovators and innovation supporters in this blog, and both in this series and in others (that I have been citing where directly relevant, in this one.) And as a continuation of that overall ongoing discussion, and a direct continuation of the most recent previous installment to it: Part 25 of this series, I added in one more crucial piece to the innovative business system puzzle: the innovation instigator who both prompts others to more fully explore the potential of their own innovative insights, and who brings innovators together to capture potential synergies in what they do, where a combined effort among them might create more value than they could achieve separately. Then I concluded that installment with a to-address list of points that I will at least begin to delve into here:

• How can you better and more effectively find and bring in the right people as new hires: the right innovators and innovation supporters to meet your business’ needs, who would effectively work with others there?

As I said at the end of Part 24, you need to know who to look for by taxonomic type; you need to know what category or categories of innovators and innovation supporters, you need to bring onboard and how to evaluate them, at least categorically. And you need to think through how your best candidates in this would and should fit into your business now and moving forward and how best to evaluate and review their work performance and their fit in your organization.

Think of this as developing and working from an at least first-cut understanding of what you seek to build in-house as you work to shift your business towards being more actively innovative. Then fine tune this more general and even generic understand so you can meaningfully conduct searches for specific best possible candidates for the various new hire roles that you seek to fill, and either by more traditional job candidate selection processes or through use of new and still emerging information access channels such as social media, or by specifically adjusting even basic selection processes such as job candidate interviews and what you ask and seek to learn from them.

• You have to develop and follow effective best practices for actually securing your best new hire candidates as members of your team and employees of your business. And what enters into those practices can and will change as you seek out new types of new hires and employees, who can best help you reach new types of goals.
• And beyond that, you need to strategically consider and plan out how can you more effectively bring current employees and managers on-board with change, as the business pivots towards being more innovative – and even in its basic business processes, where that would create greater business flexibility and competitive strength.

Focusing for the moment on the second of those two points, that means a lot more than simply working to bring current “business as usual” employees to be more accepting of innovators around them. It means helping and encouraging them to see opportunity and value in bringing the fruits of innovation into what they do too, and it means giving them opportunity and confidence to more actively participate in this as innovators in their own right too.

Starting from a new hire business development perspective and with a goal of leavening a business with new sources of innovative excellence, that all starts with knowing what types of potential new hires to look for. And it immediately continues from there with developing and instilling and following a more innovation-oriented hiring process. And when and as new hire innovators are sought out and brought onboard, their presence and their success and the recognition that they receive for their success can be leveraged as a motivator for bringing others already there, to take innovative risks too, and to think in terms of positive change that they might initiate or help develop.

• That means visibly supporting success in innovation effort,
• But at least as importantly and especially when working with current employees, that means finding an effective balance between expectation of ongoing performance success, and willingness to support risk taking where all innovation attempts do not and cannot succeed. Even the best, most innovative employees can and will fail in some of their tries.
• An innovative business has to make risk of failure less risky to their employees if they are to find the room they need in what they are willing to do and attempt, to succeed as innovators.

I would argue on the basis of my own experience that a business can in effect jumpstart a move into being more innovative, and out of a change-aversive rut by bringing in a leavening of active innovators and by letting them and their experience there at that business, serve as a model of what is possible for others to do there too. Where and how should you start this transformational process?

• Start small and with single-hire goals for carefully selected functional and operational teams in your business, where it might particularly benefit from positive innovative change.
• And be strategically selective in who you hire by innovation taxonomy type, and who you hire from within a desired type, for their individual track record and their innovative potential – and for their skills and abilities in communicating with and working with others.

Let me begin this line of discussion with an analogy: seed crystals. There are a great many circumstances where a business has overriding need to be able to grow out very large, essentially flawless single crystal structures. Consider, by way of example, the entire semiconductor industry where integrated circuits are formed from exceedingly thin slivers cut from huge, virtually flawless single crystals of silicon (or occasionally germanium or other materials.) One of the easiest, most reliable and most cost-effective ways to do that is to start with a single smaller-scale flawless piece of such a crystal: a high quality seed crystal, and grow out its larger-scale structure from that.

So look for seed crystal innovators, to add yet one more term to the taxonomy: innovators who can both succeed in starting the development of innovation in your business organization, and who can help bring others into this effort through their example – and with senior management and executive support. All of this sounds good, but where and how do you start?

Start by acknowledging and addressing the 800 pound gorilla in the room, and one that is going to be present for essentially any business that has simply pursued here-and now-gains at the expense of hewing exclusively to current success drivers and never really seeking out or developing longer-term value creating, innovative potential. The name of this unacknowledged presence is inertia: the inertia of always hiring for today’s needs as if any possible tomorrow would fit that same pattern, always and in all ways, and the inertia of always and only performance reviewing accordingly.

• Start by reconsidering and even fundamentally challenging the hiring process and what you ask, how you ask it and where you seek out and gain answers.

Pre-internet, learning about and evaluating possible new hires primarily meant reviewing resumes, cover letters and any other documentation that prospective job candidates might provide, reaching out to specific references that they provided, and meeting with and face-to-face assessing the top candidates who were brought in for direct interviews after paper trail preliminary screening. Now, this increasingly means prospective employers reaching out to review candidates online too, and for what shows there from and about them and from multiple and varied sources; businesses can and should review their prospective job candidates online to find out about them there, just as candidates can and should review the places they might apply for work at online as a core element of their essential due diligence. But for purposes of this line of discussion, my focus is not so much on where to look as it is on how to look and what types of detail to look for.

An inertia-driven, 800 pound gorilla-supporting business of the type I just noted above, is likely to always and essentially exclusively look for more of the same, and potential new hires who would fit in, and both in their current business systems and in their corporate culture and community. Looking for innovators means looking for people who can work in their system as it is, but who can also effectively reach out beyond its constraints to find and develop new – but in ways that can be brought into the business and its (hopefully now more changeable) standards.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will consider reframing and selectively opening up the candidate selection and hiring process, and both for what channels are used for gaining insight, and for what is asked and looked for through them. This means reconsidering more traditional information and insight channels (e.g. those resumes and references) and it also means making more effective use of social media and the interactive online. And as a crucial part of that, and certainly when considering social media and the interactive online, this means thinking through what the business says about itself too.

Then after addressing all of that, I will turn to address the second and third of the three next-topic discussion points that I listed above:

• Then you have to have and follow effective best practices for actually securing your best new hire candidates as members of your team and employees of your business.
• And beyond that, how can you more effectively bring current employees and managers on-board with change, as their business pivots towards being more innovative – and even in its basic business processes where that would create greater business flexibility and competitive strength?

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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