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Can insiders innovate?

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Can insiders innovate?

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With innovation playing such a crucial role in organisational success, this will be the first of a series of posts on some of the ways many organisations fail in their innovation efforts.  I wrote recently about the need for innovation projects to have a mixture of those who are dedicated solely to the project itself, and those who also work in the cash cow part of the business.

This post will look at the makeup of the dedicated part of the team, and in particular the tendency for managers to ensure this sub-team is over stocked with insiders.  This bias can occur for a number of reasons, including:

  • Familiarity – Obviously employees already inside the business will be known to the project leader.  Their skills and personalities will therefore be more easily assessed than an outsider, and the leader can fall into the trap of looking for the skills they have or know rather than the skills the project needs.
  • Comfort – This falls very neatly alongside familiarity.  When you know the people you’re working with it can give you a false sense of comfort.  Recruiting outside talent confirms that change is afoot, and as we all know, change can appear threatening.
  • Pride – The chances are fairly high that the project leader will have had a hand in recruiting many of the people currently up for selection to the project team.  It seems reasonable therefore to assume that pride will play a part in the selection process, with an admission that external skills are required an acceptance that their own recruitment may have been culpable.
  • Speed – The drivers behind innovation often ensure that speed is of the essence, and it is generally faster to shuffle the pack internally than it is to recruit someone from the outside, especially when the various on-boarding procedures are required to get the new hire up to speed.
  • Looking after your own – Jobs on innovation teams can be seen as plum jobs, so there can be an understandable desire to hand these exciting opportunities to people internally first.  Bringing in external talent for such sought after positions can demotivate existing employees.

Whilst these pressures can be considerable, there are numerous reasons why managers should resist the temptation to hire people based upon where it resides rather than the skills they possess.  It can benefit project leaders to think of their team as if it were a fresh start-up, and ask themselves whether an internal employee would be someone they were hire if they were starting with a blank sheet of paper.

With many innovation projects stretching the boundaries of what a company does, it seems inevitable that fresh skills will be required.  The above list highlights some of the pitfalls leaders can fall into when fleshing out their team.  Awareness of them should go some way to preventing you from succumbing to them.

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