When it comes to creativity and coming up with new and innovative ideas, a common phrase is “think outside the box.” This mindset now applies to the way companies are recruiting top talent. Diversifying a company’s employee base seems to be more common. In fact, the statement “only qualified candidates need apply” no longer applies, in some cases.
“Bringing new people with different thoughts into an organization to challenge the status quo is typical,” says Ben Bazinet, VP of human resources at Horizon North Logistics Inc. “Recruiting is usually done from the same industry and location where the company operates, which can really limit the number of fresh ideas the individual brings. Will you receive some new ideas? Probably. Will you receive revolutionary ideas? Probably not.”
Bazinet believes hiring from different fields, industries and locations brings dramatically different thought processes, ideas and opportunities to an organization – thereby diversifying the employee base.
His company’s recruitment methodology implements the practice of finding executive and senior-level employees from unconventional fields, industries and locations. “Most of the time, we find that the individuals we need are neither in our industry nor in our backyard.” The end result has led to success.
For example, when looking to improve their manufacturing operations, Bazinet says, “We turned to the automotive industry where margins are razor thin and quality programs, such as Six Sigma, are second to none.” Both their vice-president of manufacturing and their director of quality come from this industry and have been instrumental in improving the quality of products while driving cost down.
And, in order to optimize technology across their organization, they hired a senior IT leader from the commercial airline sector where scheduling and ticketing systems have to be flawless. “This individual was instrumental in standardizing our technology platform, reducing operating costs and driving new software solutions to differentiate our product offering,” he adds.
Finally, when they needed expertise in sales automation and standardization, Bazinet found an individual living in Singapore who built and operated an international sales division for an American multibillion-dollar software firm. “This individual was able to implement the same rigour in our sales organization in record time.”
Tim O’Connor, CEO of business consulting firm Results Canada Inc., believes people tend to focus more on the challenges of recruiting from outside a company’s industry than the benefits. He says adding employees from completely different fields, industries or locations is, in fact, “a major opportunity to strengthen your business.”
The key advantage, says O’Connor, is diversity which is essential for the health of any business. “People who bring different experiences and viewpoints to your team will provide the business with a more robust foundation for innovation, decision-making and growth.”
However, according to many hiring managers, while there are benefits to hiring outside of a company’s field, industry and/or location, there are also risks.
When a company recruits from outside industries or from uncommon or unproven ground, it is referred to as “wildcatting” and the recruits are called “wildcats,” says Chris Blanar, principal consultant at Manufacturedge, a Calgary-based consultancy that supports companies in their efforts to make transformational change.
He goes on to add one of the benefits of hiring an employee from outside the usual corporate hunting ground is that the new recruit can provide a unique perspective and/or an objective assessment of corporate culture, strategy, policies, processes and methods. “Given a voice, these views can support or serve to alter the internal perception of the strengths and health of the company. This is the most common feedback that I receive as an operational transformation consultant.”
These so-called wildcats, says Blanar, can bring solutions to problems their previous industry faced and overcame, but, their new industry has not. This can provide a significant competitive advantage.
But he also cautions that in order to capitalize on the opportunity presented by the wildcat perspective, a company must have both an environment where employees are welcome to express and convey their observations and ideas and a management team who listens to and acts upon employees’ comments. “It is easy and common to bring a wildcat into the fold and then ignore their attempted contributions despite the cost of recruiting and training candidates.”
Further to that, Blanar says, “Companies [often] capitalize on the closure or mass downsizing of competitors and non-competitors by recruiting from the newly available talent pool. The tendency is to hire en masse which brings the outside perspective, but is accompanied by prior company baggage … strategy, policies, methods. This can be both a positive and negative influencer.”
The primary challenge, according to Bazinet, is convincing a potential candidate to join an organization. “First, it would require them to make a significant relocation. Second, the individual may not understand why we want to hire them as they may not see how their skill set can be beneficial to the organization.”
Cultural challenges are also presented when bringing an employee from a different organizational culture. For Bazinet, cultural background has been a challenge for both the new employee and the existing base. “This needs to be tightly managed if it is to succeed. Also, changes to the status quo are more significant when this type of individual joins the organization. The change management and communication processes have to be extremely strong in order to be able to manage through this.”
O’Connor adds certain job requirements can be learned relatively easily such as industry-specific knowledge and technical skills. “However, skills more related to talent and capability, such as problem solving, thinking strategically, recognizing patterns and related opportunities, building effective teams, etc., typically can be applied to a variety of industries. These skills are harder to acquire but more valuable – if you identify them in recruits from outside of your industry, the opportunity to acquire these skills will often trump short-term challenges that may be encountered as they get up to speed in a new area.
“Consider the highest-value employees you have now. Why do you value them? Is it their technical skills? Probably not. Typically, it’s the value they bring in these other skills,” O’Connor points out.
He adds many companies aren’t diversifying their employee base enough. “It’s a huge missed opportunity that brings new thinking into a business. A common practice from one industry could be a significant innovation in another, and the company who introduces it could have the strategic advantage.”
But not everyone is seeing a shift towards hiring outside of a company’s industry, field and/or location. Ron Marcelo, resource manager at Ranstad Engineering, says, “Companies are not necessarily concentrating on diversifying their employee base. Rather, they are focusing on ensuring the people that they bring in fit with the culture they are trying to build. With the economic climate in Calgary being what it is, it’s an unfortunate luxury hiring managers have – being able to pick and choose from a roster of qualified people. I think that a lot of companies that are still profitable, despite what the market has presented, have re-evaluated their operation and have adjusted accordingly. As such, having the talent in place that can nurture that has taken a higher priority than having a diverse team.”