Hiring for Innovation

Before asking job candidates to take a behavioral assessment, a company should specify the ideal behaviors they want for the jobs they seek to fill.

Staying ahead of the curve is a critical survival skill for manufacturers. Maintaining that advantage is harder than ever with today’s fast-changing markets; the continuous revolution in communication and information technology; plus the never-ending quest for technical advantages in performance and cost. Manufacturers who fail to innovate will not survive.

Innovation is often driven by a lone individual or small group of highly committed visionaries who champion change. There are tools—behavioral assessments being one of them—that can help identify in advance who is likely to propel innovation within your company.

Before asking job candidates to take a behavioral assessment (my clients use Predictive Index or “PI”), a company should specify the ideal behaviors they want for the jobs they seek to fill. 

Some behaviors associated with innovation include: critical creative thinking and action; inquiring and problem-solving mindset; independence, self-confidence; ambitious, competitive; decisive, assertive; venturesome, risk-taking; resistant to authority, challenging; doing things their own way, non-conforming; undaunted when criticized or rejected; and impatient.

All of these qualities can be measured with a behavioral assessment.

One of the advantages of a tool like PI is that it provides an objective measure on behavioral qualities. Relying on people’s subjective judgment of an interview can take you in the wrong direction.

A production machinist is typically a “heads-down,” task-oriented and introverted worker. A face-to-face interview with strangers will be very stressful for him/her, and they are unlikely to “shine.” On the other hand, the congenial talker who sells himself/herself well and makes friends fast, may end up as an employee who distracts everyone with chit-chat and strays from their assigned place to socialize.

Similarly, a person with strong traits associated with innovation will tend to be headstrong, opinionated and will advance challenging theories on any topic of interest. Knowing this beforehand can help temper negative impressions that these qualities might create in an interview. If you want a forceful change agent, you have to accept that the person will aggressively pursue their own ideas about the best way forward and may not be open to others’ point of view.

Once they are hired, you can use specific management strategies for making this type of person a productive team member.

One ADVISA client survives by constantly developing new manufacturing techniques. These new ideas spring from a group of “technology leaders” within the company. The client decided to identify a target personality profile for evaluating new candidates for this important role.

The technology leaders target profile was created in three steps: 1. Completing the performance requirement options (PRO). This tool creates a composite profile from the individual behaviors required for success in specific job responsibilities; 2. Adjusting the resulting profile according to the judgment and particular knowledge of company leaders; 3. Comparing this adjusted profile with those of incumbents in the position. In this case, 100 percent of the top performers (previously identified) had profiles consistent with the target, and 100 percent of the bottom performers (previously identified) were the exact opposite.

As a best practice, whenever a target profile such as this is created, it should be subject to continuous refinement. You should periodically evaluate whether it reflects the current demands of the job and whether you have learned anything from recent new hires that suggest tweaks might be in order.

Another pathway through which innovation takes place is “top-down”—from the founder of a company to his/her subordinates. It is a fact that the typical profile of an innovator is the same as that of a business founder. The same characteristics that lead to trying new things within an existing company lead these people to start entirely new companies.

A reliable behavioral assessment can enable you to build on the fact that innovation begins with people. It can help you identify and empower those people most likely to bring the lifeblood of value, creating change to your company.