Hiring for Innovation Means Hiring for Transformation

how do you hire innovatorsHow do you hire innovators? Not by relying on past experience as a qualifier, rather on qualities.

When it comes to my consulting practice, the vast majority of mexican companies I’ve had contact with ask for a methodology. As you know, I have issues with template thinking: it doesn’t equal innovation.

I understand the culture in Mexico is risk averse, and there’s a strong belief that “innovation” can be delivered by following a checklist. Hint: you can’t.

Just like asking about the most interesting ad you’ve seen during a day (who remembers those?), I too ask about consultancies: when was the last time you heard about a consultancy deliver game-changing ideas for established companies; as a result of a methodology?

Sure, you can point to IDEO but the list is short after them. I argue that what IDEO and other innovative consultancies bring to the table is talent with an innovative mindset; the methodology is merely a tool.

Nuance matters when hiring innovators

Why is innovation a difficult talent to recruit for?

Because past performance is not indicative of future performance:

The skills and attitudes that lead one to excel are hard to gauge. They’re not easily certified. No Six Sigma Ninja, Marketing 101, Supply Chain Best Practice, Technical Doctorates necessarily signal that you have found the correct skill sets.

Innovation is as much about attitude and perspective as it is about process. So, the people you bring to the table matter more than the method used to gather inputs and then translate into outputs.

I’ve seen this work firsthand, and also not work. It’s not easy, but innovation isn’t easy because getting the “human” part right is critical; innovation is a group activity.

So, how do you hire innovators?

Hiring for innovation means hiring for transformation, so search for signs of an innovative mindset. All innovators are alike in habits and cognitive traits. Overall, you could say that innovators are learning animals: boundless curiosity, with a strong bias for action.

Also, true innovators aren’t consumed with previous success, rather they understand that a beginner’s mind is more useful for creating the future. It’s why a good clue is evidence of curiosity and experimentation. Oh, and a never give up attitude.

By the way, skills are necessary; but they are context dependent. A generalist approach is needed for transformation, a more specialized approach is needed for incremental outcomes.

Bottom line: Hire for qualities, not qualifications but don’t forget about doing a background check for employment during the hiring process. Consider using an online automated reference checking solution to speed the process and give deep, comprehensive insights on all the candidates Because past performance is not indicative of future performance, but what is predictable are the attitude for figuring out a way forward. 

Also published on Medium.

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