Change Maker for Hire: What to Look for When Hiring for Innovation

By Amy J. Radin October 17, 2018
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Innovation has moved from distant abstractions about how "cool stuff" might one day change the world to a front-and-center priority among leaders aspiring to keep their offerings relevant in a world of uncertainty, change, ambiguity and speed. Technological developments, shifting demographics and the many other trends whose impact we all feel every day are undermining the old rules and replacing them with new guideposts for creating stakeholder value.

In this environment, the successful change maker—that person who helps turn ideas scribbled on the backs of napkins into real-world results through critical thinking and action—is quite different from the business-as-usual operator who delivered well-defined targets in a far more predictable world, as I describe in my book, The Change Maker's Playbook: How to Seek, Seed and Scale Innovation in Any Company (City Point Press, 2018). Change-making success can't be reduced to a formula, but look for these types of people:

  • Explorers, who are curious and spot insights even from not-so-obvious sources.

  • Purpose-driven leaders, who are passionate about what they are setting out to achieve.

  • Resourceful doers, who figure out ways to get things done no matter what.

  • Collaborators, who engage people with diverse backgrounds, perspectives and expertise.

  • Connectors, who link user insights to drivers of the business model.

  • Proactive and flexible leaders, who are able to grow professionally and shift roles as requirements change.

  • Experimenters, who test concepts as they advance, seeking and applying feedback to ensure alignment with user and buyer needs.

  • Anticipators and adaptors, who know that even the most wildly successful offerings must evolve and that no business can ever sit still.

  • Masters of the "soft skills," including communications, influence, decisiveness, focus, talent selection and empathy—for customers, partners and team.

These characteristics will not likely exist in one individual. That's OK. Just ensure that all are represented in the team composite and are valued by those people who are expected to come together to deliver your innovation goals.

To do their work, great change makers value others who are like-minded in their passion for this kind of work. They support and complement each other in skills; leadership strengths; and technical, functional and domain knowledge.

Change makers will thrive when the broader cultural conditions are right—when the environment is built on dependability, role structure and clarity as well as psychological safety. Employees who work under these conditions see meaning in their work beyond the bottom line and believe they are having an impact on outcomes that matter.

Change makers are worth the search. Once on board, they will benefit from your encouragement and support. They want to create and deliver value, be on teams charged with solving big problems, and make a difference. Treading water is not an option for them. They want to succeed for themselves, their friends and loved ones, their communities, and the broader stakeholder group that their work affects. They know that following the old script won't work. They bring a new mindset, tactics and sense of commitment to any organization seeking to welcome them on board.

Amy J. Radin is a former Fortune 100 chief marketing and innovation officer with a record of moving ideas to performance in complex businesses, including Citi, American Express, E-Trade and AXA. She now advises high-growth startups on business development and marketing. 


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