Hiring Smart People With No Industry Experience Is How You Disrupt

“If you really want to be an effective senior leader, you must look outside your company, your country, your industry, your area of functional expertise by seeking out learnings and lessons from unexpected places.” – Professor Paul Ingram

Another “drop the mic” statement. I would just add one word to that statement: If you really want to be an effective leader TODAY. This adds to the sense of urgency in today’s climate of constant change and disruption.

Seeing it differently

I recently had a ride in a Tesla and was amazed by the dashboard design. As is my thought process, I tried to imagine what the designers were thinking when they questioned the old style and layout of auto dashboards. They concluded that their must be a better way than to have knobs all over the place. The iPad and touch phone technology have been around a long time, but the Tesla designers were able to rethink it and position that same technology into their design.

I also thought that the person that designed it DID NOT COME FROM THE AUTO INDUSTRY. This syncs up to an article I reference from time to time concerning Volvo and how they repositioned their thinking from cars to technology and talent from outside the traditional industries.

Disrupting every job

I drive an Audi 8L and just this past week I had new brake pads put on it. The installation of the pads did not take a long time; what took time was the computer alignment of the brake pads. The mechanic said that in years past you would just add the pads, lower the lift and you drive away. In the cars of today, it is viewed as a rolling piece of software.

Long gone are the days that you would take a car in for service or repair and then try to describe what was wrong. Now, first thing they do is hook it up to an iPad device to diagnose. From an HR perspective, this is a shift in strategic roles from mechanical engineers to software engineers.

Disrupt your job requirements

Think of this: How many times have you read a job description and you see all the usual along with “Agile,” “Innovative” and a few other buzz words? But on that page you also find, “MUST HAVE X AMOUNT OF YEARS IN THE ****** INDUSTRY.” That is a real conundrum.

We must rethink this hiring and talent equation, especially for those in a disruptive industry — and every company today for the most part is there. This is not to say that industry experience is not needed. Yes it is, but disruption has a better chance of succeeding if hiring is rethought without an anchor in the past.

I had this discussion recently with a colleague in Singapore who is in the banking sector. She told me their culture is adamant about bringing people in only from the banking sector. “They must know our business,” is the common refrain that she hears. Now consider that the banking sector is being inundated by disruption from all sides, from digital banks to money transfers. Yet that fixed mindset says the solution to compete with the fintech startups is going to come by hiring only from the very sector that is trying to figure out how to compete. GO FIGURE.

Article Continues Below

This is not an isolated case. I have heard this numerous times from organizations There is a common thread in this thinking and that comes from the hiring managers. Too many traditional hiring managers are fixed in their space and are big on industry experience, while newer managers are more willing to seek great talent regardless of where it comes from. This is not a scientific conclusion, but one based on my interactions across the globe.

From microscope to binoculars

Talent is talent. Volvo hired marketers from the social space. Recruiting hijacked a car show, getting incredible brand reach and filling 200 engineering jobs through a clever interface design  that the “old” Volvo would never have even considered.

These were perfect examples of what transferrable talent can do for an industry in disruption.

Everything today is going to have to be “rethink” — if that is a word. The same way that organizations are trying to figure out next step, we must apply the same approach to talent. We must forget about the old static job description and move beyond our narrow microscope lens to the binoculars for a wider view.

The talent space is changing like everything else and we must recreate the same as everything else today.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

Topics