Hiring the Way You Always Have Gets You More of What You Have

I was reading through a job description the other day that mentioned innovation 3+ times. However, as I read the description, I saw this: “Must have 5-7 years’ experience.” My thought was: Innovation or tenure — you tell me.

Organizations often get hung up looking for candidates with relevant experience within their industry. Transformational talent isn’t something that can be quantified. It’s about discovery, innovation, and reinvention. Pioneers in one industry can easily use their intelligence, creativity, and drive to transform the role you are looking to fill. But at some point we need to maybe rethink the way we look for and gauge transformative talent.

Hire from without

Sure, it seems logical to hire from within your functional industry, but the best candidates have the skills to maneuver through many organizations and specialties. When I facilitate, I often ask people who has more value: The person with 4 jobs in 8 years or the person with 2 jobs over 8 years. Both are otherwise equal. This leads to a spirited discussion as some ponder the “job hopper” and others choose the talent with “numerous exposures.”

If your competition isn’t driving innovation at the level your company is, why would you recruit from them?

Focus on finding the best-of-breed skill set from outside your industry, and rely on others internally to drive the domain knowledge and experience.

Volvo did just that

I came across one of the most amazing articles about this approach on the Harvard Business Review. It discusses how Volvo transformed itself from a brand stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The Swedish carmaker didn’t match up well with luxury brands like Mercedes, BMW, and Audi. But it didn’t have the resources to compete with mass-market companies like Toyota and GM.

After being sold by Ford to Chinese auto manufacturer Geely, Volvo decided to transform its approach to become a premium player. To do that, the company needed not only to transform its image, but its workforce with an infusion of new, entrepreneurial talent. The strategy developed by the CHRO the authors of the article called “M & A for talent.”

Here’s what Volvo did:

  • Hired salespeople and marketers from Google, who transformed Volvo’s use of technology and social media in those disciplines.
  • Hired Nokia engineers, who were accustomed to thinking about what digital forms appeal to consumers, to redesign radio and navigation systems.
  • Hired craftsmen from the fashion industry.
  • Hired executives who had conceived and executed significant strategic shifts at bigger companies.
  • Auto industry experience NOT required.

“To get the skills and change agents it needed, “ the article emphasizes, “Volvo looked outside the automotive industry.’

Even with all this outside DNA, it’s a long journey to change the mindset of an organization. However, if innovation is what you are looking for, think outside the DNA box of your industry.

Don’t groupthink your hiring

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon in which everyone in a group goes along with a decision without a critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints. This is how so many search for new talent. We depend so much on retreads from the same industry in our pursuit for innovation, and hope that this new hire will turn things around.

Someone at one of my workshops took me to task for my example, suggesting that the person with the 5-7 years of experience could also bring that same type of innovation. My response was that thinking out of the box might mean never having been in the box.

Your competitive advantage

Companies are finally realizing that talent is their only competitive advantage, and if you want to compete today it is about transformational talent. The more talent wealth an organization has, the more successful that organization will be.

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The message is clear: In order for your organization to thrive, it must have great transformational talent. And building a bench of talent begins with assessing your organization’s current circumstances. Start experimenting with the unanchored approach that Volvo used. Convince hiring managers that talent is viewed through different lenses today.

Skills are transferable across industries and we need to rethink that line that states “Industry Experience Required.” Those 3 words can be the difference between doing it like we have always done it or doing it like we have never done it before.

To see the results of the marketer’s approach for a Volvo with no industry experience, check out how the company promoted itself during Super Bowl 2015.

As only a lawyer would say: I rest my case.

Ron Thomas

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.