Leveraging disruptive talent

With growing drive for innovation, disruptors are new high-potential recruits
By Marcel Vander Wier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/11/2017
Paper Airplanes
Disruptors are curious, creative, resilient people, who believe in their ideas, but also have the ability to spot opportunity in changing market needs and execute accordingly. Credit: MaDedee (Shutterstock)

The rapid advancement of technology is presenting unique challenges for employers, and fuelling desire for a new pool of talent, according to Michelle Moore, senior vice-president of global product development at LHH Knightsbridge in Toronto.

“We find ourselves in unprecedented business conditions,” she said. “As HR leaders, we need to be on the cutting edge of this in understanding how it actually impacts our organization and the people within it… At the highest level, what it means is that organizations really need to develop new business capabilities.”

“Innovation, in my books, is no longer optional.”

Speaking at a recent SCNetwork event in Toronto, Moore said technology has unlocked a new world of business competition alongside a fresh set of expectations from both employees and clientele. To compete in the modern workplace, employers need to seek out talent who do things differently — be that generating fresh ideas or challenging the status quo.

“You need people who can actually fuel these ideas and make innovation a reputable and sustainable business process or capability in your organizations,” she said. “If you don’t have people who can keep the pipeline of ideas full, who can push, get things done, work nicely with others, do it for the organization, you’re going to be in trouble.”

“We cannot underestimate the value of people, because that’s really the secret sauce.”

Who are disruptors?

Disruptors, according to Moore, are “people who can spot ideas, implement them… work nicely with other people to actually put those ideas into practice, and stay over the longer term in an organization.”

On the innovation talent spectrum, disruptors are more than simply inventors and entrepreneurs, as they provide “sustained innovation and results,” she said.

“Innovation, if you think about the definition, is doing something in a dramatically different way to unlock new business value,” said Moore. “This is the time where we want people to actually be disruptive.”

While acknowledging the term “disruptor” appears negative in nature, Moore said the talent pool she is referring to is actually productive and loyal, with strong intentions of maintaining corporate value.

Disruptors are curious, creative, resilient people, who believe in their ideas, but also have the ability to spot opportunity in changing market needs and execute accordingly, she said.

And disruptors are the next type of high-potential talent, who can increase business results by developing new products or services, and connect innovative ideas to an organization’s core model, said Moore.

“When you bring on disruptors, you have to sometimes measure their performance differently because it takes a while to work through the innovation pipeline.”

Not all disruptors recognize their abilities, and it’s often up to HR to unlock them in an effort to challenge the status quo, she said.

“This is our job as leaders, of course, to watch for those behaviours and to encourage people to apply them in a way that’s going to deliver business value for our organization.”

Is your organization ready?

But seeking disruptive workers isn’t for everyone; it depends on an organization’s commitment to innovation, said Moore.

Typical readiness includes an appropriate mix of culture, innovation maturity, tech readiness and rewards alignment.

Many companies are confused regarding their current innovation needs. The good news is they can leverage disruptors in many ways, regardless of their corporate maturity, with actions ranging from rudimentary ideation to seeking help from an advisory board, all the way to hiring a disruptor on an interim or permanent basis, she said.

“We need to make sure we have, first of all, a vision in place,” said Moore, noting the need for an innovation process. “This is probably one of the most important things if you want to make it sustainable and repeatable… It’s easier to come up with one good idea for innovation. It’s very hard to come up with that second.”

The process requires a pathway to idea generation and processes surrounding selection, rapid development and launch, as well as strategies surrounding measurement and management.

“You need the process,” she said. “You need governance around this whole thing. It has to be in place and that is the biggest challenge I have talking to C-suite leaders, is getting them to understand that it is a discipline.”

It is also important to refrain from neglecting the core business by pursuing too many risky endeavours, said Moore.

“We have to remember that innovation is about doing new things... We have to learn from our successes and our failures and be able to apply it.”

Maximizing success

Realignment of corporate culture may be necessary, as a cutting-edge employee experience is essential for attracting and recruiting millennial employees, she said.

“There are lots of things that go into your culture,” said Moore. “It’s not just your values — it’s the history of your organization, the norms that you have — there are a lot of different pieces here.”

Building blocks to an innovation culture include promoting agility, improving change management, and encouraging creative thinking, she said.

Once disruptors are brought on, they require personal support alongside access to an executive sponsor and peer mentors, said Moore. Managerial support in the form of frequent feedback and appropriate performance reviews also helps, as does a connection to other disruptors within or outside the company. Participation in startup communities and conferences should be encouraged.

“It’s very lonely to be the only person who thinks a certain way,” she said.

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