Most organizations are not set up to hire innovators, rather they filter them out. Why? Because they follow the tried and true solid advice for making good hiring decisions: hire for culture-fit.
To hire for culture-fit is to hire for comfort, the short-term, sameness; to keep optimizing what is rather than creating what’s next. The problem with hiring for culture-fit is that if your culture doesn’t reward risk-taking and learning from mistakes then you will filter out innovators.
This is how most organizations work.
All cultures are not alike, but over time all tend to become complacent; victims of their own success. You see, success breeds failure; all business failure is self-inflicted. It’s a hard pill to swallow for most business leaders because it means accepting that what got you here won’t get you there.
How do business leaders avoid this conundrum?
Beware of the Echo Chamber
People love routine, and as a business starts growing it starts adding layers of processes and management which give way to the dullness of routine. Sticking to routine is what gets rewarded. A comfort zone soon develops, and anything that stirs the pot is quickly discarded.
Everyone who follows the rules of what got us here turns into a Chief Innovation Killer, without even knowing it. Innovation is the only way to create new value, it’s an investment in the future. Businesses that prioritize the present, optimizing the core and keeping the wheels running as smooth as possible, filter out innovators by looking for culture-fit.
Where all think alike nobody thinks very much, and by hiring for culture-fit you are creating an invisible echo chamber where everyone agrees with the status-quo.
This is what business leaders must avoid. How do you do that?
Cultivate Diversity of Thought by Hiring for Contribution
Call us the black sheep, zero-gravity thinkers, misfits, renegades, rebels, insurgents, or whatever; businesses must never lose the warrior spirit of the unconventional. But they do because it’s not logical to break what works.
The belief that what works is static and done is what limits leaders vision. Nothing is ever done, all people and businesses are a work in progress. And, business leaders must cultivate diversity of thought to keep moving without stagnating.
Diversity of thought is what brings you a fresh set of lenses to see the world through, distinct points of view; you don’t get that by hiring for culture-fit.
If your culture doesn’t reward diversity of thought, then you are well on your way to stagnation. To avoid it, leaders must hire for cultural contribution. Adam Grant, author of Give and Take and Originals, says that to hire Originals (innovators) you have to hire less for culture-fit than for contribution to culture.
My solution is to prioritize cultural contribution over cultural fit. I try to choose candidates who could make a positive contribution to the future of our culture, even if they don’t feel like today’s mainstream employee. I don’t optimize for fit with our existing culture, because over time that will lead to uniformity and irrelevancy. Instead, I try to envision a future where this person’s unique point of view has shifted how we work and what we value. I hire for an individual’s potential cultural contribution.
Focusing on cultural contribution in hiring and in day-to-day organizational life sets the stage for creativity and innovation to flourish.
Embrace Nonconformists to Find the Next Revolution
Innovators by nature are nonconformists, a high degree of nonconformity is the attitude necessary to avoid stagnation. Innovators are a special kind, they stand for something. They don’t fit in, and are relentless in pursuing their ideas. Anybody who thinks is just that, a thinker. Innovators both think and do, and it is by doing that they get their energy because ideas should not live in our heads, rather than out in the world for people to interact with and benefit from.
Hiring and managing for nonconformity is not the same as for maintaining the status-quo. It comes down to supporting and rewarding surprise. Businesses filter out innovators by looking for culture-fit because it’s all about optimizing the core and keeping the wheels running as smooth as possible.
To hire for innovation is to hire for transformation, that means looking at potential for today and the future. So, if you don’t value nonconformists, you don’t value innovation.
Bottom line: The future of your organization is shaped by the people you hire today. To promote creativity and innovation in your business today and forever, hire not for culture-fit, but cultural contribution.
image credit: spreadshirt.com
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Jorge Barba is an Innovation Insurgent and is the Creative Strategist at Blu Maya, a San Diego based Digital Marketing Firm that helps organizations build their online business with strategy development for new products and services. He’s also the author of the innovation blog Game Changer. And lastly, you can follow him on Twitter @jorgebarba.