HOW TO HIRE AN INNOVATOR

If changing the course of a company is intimidating, the responsibility of choosing the right person to do it successfully is even more so. Nowadays human resource departments  carry a difficult challenge on their shoulders: hiring the new gladiators of business innovation.

Let´s begin by understanding the context.

According to the Japanese Innovation Network it is essential to consider the organizational culture of the business that wants to innovate, because activating the process of business renewal is no easy task. The thing is that in a company we can find three types of workers: The ones that JIN calls hypocrites (they want to maintain the status quo, they have  experience and solid bases which they tend to replicate), innovators (they challenge normality, they are flexible and bring fresh ideas, they are very proactive) and finally, the observers (people with adaptive characters who allow themselves to be influenced by the two previous profiles).

Another issue added to this complexity: there is no one and only innovator profile. To assume this, would be to turn a blind eye to the wonders of diversity and support the cliché that only those oriented towards the arts or design have what it takes to innovate. While they say that all of us are creative, it is up to the Human Resources department to function as good miners, able to detect  and dig up those hidden diamonds and open the doors to let them shine.

If we talk about several roles, then we are referring to a team of innovators. The strategy for forming this team rises from the acknowledgement that innovation is a complex skill formed by many other simpler skills. We ambitiously look for candidates who are brilliant and multi-talented  with the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci in all the phases of the innovator process,however we should be sufficiently humble to acknowledge that talents are focused and precise. The difficulty lies in assigning roles that fit with with the strongest skills of each person.

The renowned  economist and marketing expert Philip Kotler has mapped the structure of an innovative team with designated roles in a clear and functional way:

  • Activators: people in charge of permanently evaluating the company´s strengths and needs in order to prioritize and choose which of them should and must be addressed initially. They will be in charge of managing innovation needs , evaluating requirements, available resources, urgency, impact, etc.
  • Researchers: people who love to consume information. They are up to date with trends, not only regarding their industry but many other fields and ítems. Novelty and curiosity are their main drivers. This allows them to contribute highly useful information to develop a project.
  • The Creative: All expectations tend to fall on these people. But in order for their original proposals to be feasible the cooperation of all the other players is essential. Their task is to look at things differently, combine data contributed by the researchers and thus, uncover blind spots.
  • Executors: they are responsible for materializing the final proposals. This can range from developing prototypes and evaluating their efectiveness to securing and activating the resources for the project in order for it to come to life. This role can be assumed by people in all areas of a Company ranging from industrial design, marketing, finance, administration and engineering to human resources.
  • And one more role with Kotler´s permission, Mobilizers: essential for connecting the innovation team objectives with the general objectives of the company while promoting and propelling all the activities carried out by the team through structural transformation which allows for change.

That said, as is the case on many occasions, thoery and technacalities fall short of reality, that´s why we consider it important to highlight some details that are really worthwhile  keeping in mind , in order to successfully select the profiles with the highest potential, because  many times a CV or Resume are not enough to spot these  profiles.

The key that should guide us: diversity, breaking with the paradigm which is common in  the recruiting strategies that have ruled in companies up to now: “if the candidate that came from there worked, then  she will play a good role too”.

  • Pedagogical diversity: Not all methodologies work for everyone. So, far from looking for people who are certfied with the same methodology, look for people who understand creativity in different ways. A methodolgy is not good on its own, it´s good if it fits the the skills and personality of whoever is going to implement it. Look for people who besides knowing the theories,  propose (or have proposed in the past) their own ways of approaching challenges, of disrupting the usual processes to achieve better results. What you are looking for are people that don´t stick to the processes as if they were under Hitler´s orders, on the contrary, they should not be intimidated when faced with amiguity, they should look for it voluntarily to explore possibilities. Look for good improvisors.
  • Self knowledge diversity: Find out how the candidates experience creativity. Creativity isn´t always ready to crank up at full speed. This is a skill that needs to be nourished and exercised, but above all it requires a lot of self knowledge to know how to actívate it when it is needed. You are going to have multiple scenarios to perform your innovative projects . Look for people who know how to self administer their creativity when faced with different circumstances and challenges.
  • Job diversity: We´re not only talking about the variety of professional careers , we´re talking about people who, as in the variety of roles previously mentioned , have been able to transfer their skills and knowledge to different contexts because this is exactly what is required for managing innovative projects. Each project is a new scenario with different rules and players. The people that have shown their ability to navegate in different seas with their tools are valuable because they have proven their adaptability, flexibility, willingness to take risks and creativity to use what they have learned in new scenarios.

Innovation is a shared skill  and it is extremely important to have the ability to form teams that know how to nourish themseves with the strengths of all their members, because the solidity of each phase of the process will depend on this.

NOTE: Japanese Innovation Network is an acknowledged accelerator in the context of medium sized and large companies.