The word innovative has becomes a cliché on job descriptions akin to thinking outside the box, yet many companies still struggle to recruit and cultivate innovative talent. What’s the problem? They’re not sure what they’re looking for. Without a standardized skill set, proper certification and a few instances of quantifiable practice, trying to predict how someone might respond to an innovation challenge is impossible.
Finding, hiring and nurturing innovators and giving them the structure they need to perform at their peak is important for an innovation to gain necessary traction inside a company, and ultimately within a competitive market. It needs to tap into a commercial opportunity and capture people’s imaginations in a unique and compelling way. What follows are a few key learnings on recruiting and developing innovative talent.
Simply said, it needs to have the money and the magic. Innovators need to demonstrate this combination of creativity and strategic acumen, and those are not always easy to spot on a resume. It’s often necessary to design a hiring exercise to test the application of these qualities towards real-world commercial objectives.
For example, talent managers can ask candidates to complete an exercise that simulates the process of unlocking market opportunities through innovation by asking for a solution to a real-life problem. Consider the following scenario.
Employees develop an innovation strategy for the CEO of a major beverage company and synthesize insights from market conditions outlined in a beverage industry trend report. Once the employee has devised a strategy, he or she presents it to the team as if he or she were presenting to the CEO. Talent leaders can evaluate the employee not only on the quality of the insights driving the strategy, but on his or her understanding of the complexities surrounding its implementation and ability to determine the commercial potential of the idea
Once you have identified the right people and have them in place, the next step is to institute organizational structures and practices that engage the innovators’ skill sets to consistently deliver breakthrough results.
In 1999, Jim Collins wrote a brilliant piece in the Harvard Business Review titled, “Turning Goals Into Results: The Power Of Catalytic Mechanisms.” In it he addressed the problem that many managers face: They have a big goal but lack the organizational focus and courage to achieve it. Collins offered catalytic mechanisms as a potential solution.
By his definition, a catalytic mechanism is “the crucial link between objectives and performance, [the] galvanizing device that translate lofty aspirations into concrete reality.” His thesis can be broken down into a simple analogy: if you’re standing next to a lake and you have to catch a fish to eat, you will catch a fish. Although he didn’t apply the theory to innovation, it is directly transferable. Giving your team a material stake in an outcome will significantly increase your chances of succeeding.
At my company we operate on a performance-based business model, in which we put two-thirds of our potential revenue at risk based on the performance of the innovations we create for our clients. This model provides us with a powerful catalytic mechanism that translates objectives on every project into imperatives and creates an atmosphere where “deliver or go home” is the mantra.
To ensure accountability for every outcome is distributed throughout the company we instituted a program called 100 Day Plans. Every 100 Days, the entire company sits down together and agrees on outcomes to achieve during the next 100 days. These outcomes are written into employees’ individual 100 Day Plan goals, which encourages ownership not only of tasks, but of results.
At the end of every 100 day period, employees and managers agree scores for each employee’s individual outcome, and the resulting averages determine bonuses. During company-wide meetings, each team member shares their individual outcomes with the group; this drives a culture of transparency and collaboration. This way, we can be sure we’re building teams capable of turning transformational innovation into the repeatable, scalable discipline that every business needs.
By Pete Maulik
Talent Management Magazine, July 2011