Getting the Right Talent for Innovation

Perhaps the most important role of the innovation leader is creating a competent team. For that reason alone, it’s one of the most challenging. It’s a constant fight for talent. You may have the best products and services in the market, but without a strong, talented marketing team behind them, you’ll start losing ground to the competition.

Building a competent team begins with recruiting and hiring the right people. But it takes much more than just telling your human resources department to go fill open slots. Top innovation leaders get actively involved. When is the best time to recruit marketing people? All the time! What I mean by that is you should think of recruiting as an ongoing activity. You need a pipeline of potential marketers ready to step in when a position opens up.

When I hire innovation team member, I always look for certain characteristics beyond just job experience and track record. I look for people who are competitive by nature, who have a high tolerance for ambiguity, who are great at networking, and who have a good head for numbers. Creating new products and services is a cash generating activity, so you’ve got to have solid financial skills.

Notice I didn’t mention specific commercial skills like branding or marketing research. That’s because innovation can be learned like any skill. You, as the marketing leader, need to establish a strong, well-defined training and development program for your entire organization. Be sure to make it an annual, on-going activity, not just a one-time event. Training is an investment. For some examples, check out my other fundamentals courses on marketing, innovation, and branding. They’ll give you a good head start.

Innovators like to perform at high levels, but they have to be motivated. You, as the innovation leader, play the key role in doing that. Innovators are at their best when they feel a sense of purpose. They have to feel good that the products and services they put into the marketplace are valued by their customers. Innovators need to feel appreciated for the work they do and the risks they take. And they need to be rewarded and recognized for their accomplishments.

Be sure to use a mix of both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, and do it throughout the year, not just at the annual meeting. Now here’s a tip. A great way to recognize innovators is to have one of your key customers present an award in front of their peers. That really ties it all together – a sense of purpose, a sense of appreciation, and a sense of recognition.

Creating competent teams means getting the right talent, but also dealing with under-performers. The mistake you can make is thinking that just hiring a few superstars will make up for the weaker talent. Just the opposite will occur. The superstars will get frustrated, demotivated, and they’ll eventually leave if they don’t think you’re dealing with the poor performers.

Your under-performers either lack the skill to do the job or the will to do it. You have to have clear conversations with them to understand why they’re not performing, then set clear expectations and deadlines when they need to turn things around. If they don’t improve, they’re a liability to you and your team. You’ll lose credibility inside and outside the department if you don’t take action.

So take a look at your talent pool. Understand your team’s strengths and weakness, then put the right hiring, training, and motivational programs in place to keep upgrading your team year after year. That way, you’ll keep winning the fight for talent.

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Drew Boyd is a 30-year industry veteran who spent 17 years at Johnson & Johnson in marketing, mergers and acquisitions, and international development. Today, he trains, consults, and speaks widely in the fields of innovation, persuasion, and social media. He is the executive director of the Master of Science in Marketing Program and assistant professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati. His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Industry Week, Psychology Today, and Strategy+Business. Follow @DrewBoyd

Drew Boyd




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