Everyone wants innovators in their business, but finding employees who are willing to innovate is a very challenging task. As we discussed in my last blog post, the most innovative workers might have a non-traditional background for the position you’re staffing.
If you are seeking an innovator, what qualities do you look for?
Tony Wagner attempts to uncover the most important innovative attributes in Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. Tony previously authored The Global Achievement Gap, a book about schools not teaching kids what they need to know to thrive in a global, knowledge-based economy.
In Creating Innovators, Wagner identifies three skills that are critical for innovation: Expertise, Creativity & Passion.
Expertise is often taken for granted. All of your employees know their functional areas backward and forwards. Or do they? How do you know? Especially for areas outside of your expertise, how do you assess that candidates for new positions have sufficient expertise not only to do their job but to innovate the position? I suggest using a combination of peer interviews by existing employees that have sufficient expertise, and industry assessments to uncover a candidate’s expertise.
Creativity is the toughest of the three to measure. Wagner emphasises that multi-disciplinary expertise – or exposure – is critical here. Having a software designer who is also an artist would help to design functional, yet highly aesthetic programs. Assessing a candidate’s background, and interests in areas outside of their functional responsibility will uncover whether a potential hire has a broad perspective to look at challenges creatively.
Regarding passion, you’ll know it when you see it. Employees working on the weekend without being asked – or pro-actively solving challenging problems are signs of passion. But, hiring passionate employees is a different matter. Everyone puts on their most passionate face for a job interview. How do you know it will carry through to the job? A reference check can really come in handy when you’re investigating passion. Most references will say the candidate did a good job, and they liked them. As you ask questions on their working style, commitment to the job, and scenarios where they went “above and beyond” you will start to develop an assessment of their passion.