Looking To Hire And Keep Great Innovators? Focus On The 3 Rs

Developing a culture of innovation depends on having and keeping the right people, and you do that by recruiting, retraining, and rewarding.

The following is an excerpt from Relentless Innovation: What Works, What Doesn’t—and What That Means for Your Business by Jeffrey Phillips.

Innovation relies on people more than other processes. This reliance on employees, management, and executives in an organization requires that the "right" people are attracted, and then given the appropriate tools and techniques for a sustained innovation success. Their passions and capabilities also must be ensured to align with the needs and expectations of the firm. Let’s take a closer look at the three Rs.


The first way to transform a BAU culture to a more innovative one is to change the kind of people you hire. As a firm grows and matures and the "operating model" becomes widely accepted, executives and managers tend to hire people who have the same kinds of perspectives and experiences as those that exist within the firm. In that way training needs are reduced and the learning curve is shortened; however, the risk of "groupthink" increases dramatically.

Innovators understand that introducing people with deep skills but with different or complementary perspectives adds value to the existing "operating model" but it also adds new emphasis to innovation skills. These recruits may ruffle a few feathers, but they will introduce a significant number of new ideas and perspectives. Recruiting even a few "creatives" or right-brained thinkers into a rigid left-brain company can add just enough dissonance and creative tension to start shifting the thinking of the company as a whole.

This shift in thinking will occur as the creatives begin to question the status quo and the perspectives of middle managers and executives. Introducing people with different experiences and different perspectives will create dissonance and force the existing management structure to reconsider its objectives and perspectives, while introducing new concepts and ideas that haven’t been considered within the firm previously.

Recruiting new people with different cultural backgrounds and skills is relatively easy. Finding appropriate homes where their skills will be accepted and rewarded in a more conservative corporate culture, however, may be more difficult. A culture that prides itself on rational thought and quantitative thinking will be tempted to squelch creative, right-brained thinking. Therefore, the recruiting activity must also be tied to finding appropriate roles and opportunities for the creatives within the organization to give them a chance to impact the culture. Even if a few new innovative or creative employees are hired, the vast majority of the firm remains. This remaining group will need to gain new skills, perspectives, and a focus on innovation. That’s where the second "R"—retraining—comes into play.


A program of training or "retraining" is valuable for tenured employees. This training is focused on fostering creativity and innovative thinking, and it will require a shift from much of the focus over the last decade, when efficiency and effectiveness have been the norm. That’s why we use the "tongue in cheek" title of retraining. While many managers have received a significant amount of training on tools designed to cut costs and optimize processes, they’ve received little or no training on innovation. Innovation tools and techniques will, in many cases, conflict with the optimization and efficiency training they’ve received in the past.

Introducing a number of creativity and innovation tools and techniques, alone, however, won’t generate more innovation. New training and new perspectives are required to make people aware of their expectations, perspectives, and "anchors" that limit them from thinking creatively and innovatively. By "anchors" I mean the firm expectations, rules, and accepted wisdom that govern most of a middle manager’s thinking and that limit the perspectives and ideas they are willing to consider. Until these perspectives and anchors are changed, or at least until we’ve made people aware of the barriers they impose on their own thinking, innovation and creativity remain difficult to accomplish. Talent management and human resources control much of the training budget in many companies and they are often responsible for defining appropriate training materials and curricula. Thus, training the existing executives, managers, and staff on the importance of innovation and on new tools and techniques for innovation can begin to shift the culture as well.

Innovation training can be delivered as a series of ongoing courses, or, perhaps more helpfully, in "just in time" offerings tailored to the needs of the innovation team. The training can embrace different aspects of innovation, from creative thinking techniques to deep investigations of specific innovation tools or methods. The range of options is vast. Hundreds of different packaged training programs exist on creativity, innovation processes, and tools and programs. What’s important in this step is to decide the strategic goals and core competencies of the firm, and then select the innovation training programs that will help achieve your goals.


The final impact talent management and human resources can have on innovation is in reward structures. There are several factors to consider in reward and compensation programs. First, consider the "regular" compensation programs that focus on the standard compensation schemes. Too often compensation is tied to expectations of efficiency and effectiveness, so not only compensation, but evaluations must be modified as well. Other kinds of rewards and recognition must be considered as well. Research shows that many innovators find intangible rewards for innovation equally as compelling as financial rewards, so structuring a broad rewards program for innovation is vital.

Intangible reward systems can include a wide range of actions, including:

• Simple recognition systems, such as identifying an "Innovator of the Year"
• Allowing people to work on ideas that align with their passions
• Offering new roles or titles aligned to innovation
• Offering new training opportunities to people who excel at innovation

Much enthusiasm can be generated for innovation with little financial investment if rewards other than standard compensation are carefully developed.

Buy Relentless Innovation here.

[Images: Olga Drozdova, Nigel Lee, Fedorov Oleksiy via Shutterstock]

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