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The secrets behind attracting and retaining innovative people

  • Hire passionate people and the innovations will follow
  • Don’t let the flame of innovation die out
  • How to retain the best employees
  • Finding innovators in your company

For most companies, day-to-day operations, like meeting deadlines, answering emails, and chasing late payments, don’t leave room for much else. Employees are overwhelmed and often have no time to work on innovative ideas. But tech giants such as Google, Amazon, and Apple, for instance, have a totally different approach to running their empires. Their managers are well aware that innovation is the key to solving problems, so they focus on hiring the most talented people and empowering employees to work on new ideas. This doesn’t mean that they’re always on the lookout for the new Steve Jobs or the next Elon Musk, however.

The author Greg Satell explains this approach by saying that “most great innovators were nothing like the mercurial stereotype … You would notice very few of them in a crowded room.” That’s why, instead of chasing superstars, great companies build great teams. This is not an easy feat, mind you. It’s becoming increasingly complicated to hire the right people. For example, it takes “41 days on average to fill a vacancy”. And even when you finally hire them, keeping great innovators happy and motivated takes more than just a decent salary – which makes hiring, developing, and retaining talented people a challenging task for most companies.

With the right amount of nurturing, innovative teams can help businesses outperform their competitors and dominate the market. To reach this point, companies need to follow proven methods when dealing with talented people. A supportive environment, smart managers, and being given the space to take risks are just some of the requirements. But first and foremost, managers need to learn how to hire and attract innovative employees.

Hire passionate people and the innovation will follow

Steve Jobs famously said that to be successful, “You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right.” What Jobs instinctively knew was also proven by years of research on how solving important problems motivates people. Managers should take notice of this and hire people interested in the problems the company is trying to solve. That interest often leads to innovation and business success.

Black and white close-up of Steve Jobs’ face
Steve Jobs famously said that to be successful, “You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right.”

At the same time, it’s important to avoid the mistake of hiring ‘copies’ of current employees. Hoping to boost team cohesion, they’ll actually harm its creativity. Scientific research conducted over the past decades shows that diverse teams –  diverse both in their expertise and demographics – are more innovative and productive. And to attract them, employers must develop a strong online presence and an efficient hiring process.

Companies that share ideas and relevant content online are able to reach many innovative people as they’ll appear approachable and likable to digital natives. As the business coach Izabela Lundberg notes, “This is especially effective among millennials.” But once qualified people are hired, the real work – nurturing their creativity – starts.

Don’t let the flame of innovation die out

Employees are a company’s most valuable asset, and their innovations pay the biggest dividends. The first step in promoting innovation is simple – create an environment in which people aren’t afraid to voice their ideas. Job titles shouldn’t matter and interns should be able to communicate as freely as their superiors. This way, another problem will be prevented – managers setting the tone of the discussions. The most innovative teams are those who are given the freedom to think and act without restrictions. As the author Christopher Williams says, “surround the team with what they need and get out of the way. Creativity is organic.”

Three women and three men sitting around a table with books and a laptop, smiling and looking in the same direction
Employees are a company’s most valuable asset, and their innovations pay the biggest dividends.

Of course, managers need to set clear goals and rewards so that employees know in which direction they’re heading. At the same time, they shouldn’t be afraid of the cost of failure. Even if the experiment doesn’t achieve the desired goal, testing helps the team members to learn important lessons, eventually enabling them to succeed. And that success should be rewarded, whether verbally or financially. It’s also important for managers to keep their focus firmly on the future. As Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, explains, “I’ve constructed my job so I don’t have to be pulled into the present. I can stay two to three years in the future.” And this mindset will trickle down to other managers, making the retention of innovative people a much easier task.

How to retain the best employees

Today’s employees no longer feel they need to thank their employers when receiving their salary at the end of the month. As the author David Russo says, “When today’s younger workers … get their paycheck, they say, ‘We’re even’.” This attitude is a reflection of deep structural changes in the labour market. Employees no longer put all their trust in the companies they work for and think that life-long jobs are a thing of the past. This mindset enables them to develop skills that are useful in multiple industries and makes it easy for them to change jobs. Companies that want to retain innovative people should, as Russo argues, “tell employees that they value them as persons”. It’s also critical for employers to invest in the education of their workers and create a supportive environment, fostering honesty and openness to new ideas.

Finding innovators in your company

Running a business is becoming increasingly complicated as technology levels the playing field and allows young startups to challenge large, established corporations. The difference between success and failure often boils down to one thing – innovation. Ingenious products and services can propel companies to greatness overnight. One of the secrets behind that success is the ability to hire, nurture, and retain innovative people. It’s important, however, to remember that talented people expect more than just a fitting salary. They want freedom and the opportunity to work with smart colleagues, as well as to feel appreciated and have access to necessary resources. And if you wonder where to find innovators, look no further than the people in your own company. Sometimes, the most creative employees are the least noticeable ones.

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