And they should be. 

My name is Renée Brouwer-van der Heijden, People & Culture Lead at Aimforthemoon

Innovators not only envision a bold future, but are brave enough to build it.

This takes boldness. Energy. And ego. But their egos shouldn’t be too big, or they risk derailing their entire team. But more about that later…

As Aimforthemoon’s People & Culture Lead, I am constantly recruiting innovators -either for our own team or for our clients. I hire new team members, freelance entrepreneurs-in-residence, intrapreneurs and advise clients in sourcing talent from their own ranks.

In the 50+ corporate innovation and startup team I have helped form, I’ve learned that many organizations undervalue the importance of soft skills. A lot of emphasis is put on hard skills. ‘Does he know growth metrics?’ ‘How well does he know the market?’ etc.

If there’s one thing I learned in the past decade: it’s that successful innovators, especially corporate innovators, have the ‘Make it Happen Together’ gene (MHT). 

The MHT gene is all about soft skills. It enables someone to get things done in a startup way-of-working while navigating the corporate context and dealing with a growing team.

Put differently: this person knows how to hustle, respects how things are done in the context of the larger organization, and is able to collaborate (or, in the case of a leadership position) facilitate a team that’s constantly changing.

How do you find such people?

Before I get to that, I want to tell you about that innovator who crashed his team.

To give you some context, this person worked for a flat, decentralized entrepreneurial organization. It was unlike many large companies you know. He and his team had a lot of freedom to experiment and make decisions on their own.

Just like his colleagues, he suggested many new ideas to the team. Some good, some less good.

So far nothing special…

But what happened is that he pursued several ideas that were disagreed by his team members. On his own. This put a drain on his team members and ultimately, caused several to leave. He stayed on, only to leave a few months after when he realized himself that it wouldn’t work out between him and the company.

I wasn’t involved in this venture, so I don’t know what was done to manage this situation, but my assumption is that in the recruiting process, there wasn’t enough focus on identifying the MHT gene because clearly, he doesn’t have it.

So how do you find the MHT gene?

The MHT gene is made up of experience, mindset and vibe. Finding it requires experience from the HR person in hiring corporate innovators, a mindset to think out of the box as well as the ability to ‘read’ people.

When engaging with candidates, these are the questions I ask myself which help me do that:

Experience

  • What entrepreneurial experience does someone have?
    • Has/does the candidate: own a company, worked for a startup/corporate venture, launched a foundation, is part of a board/committee etc.
    • This gives an idea of how well someone can steer a new venture, manage risk and people etc.
  • What corporate experience does someone have?
    • This shows the ability of working inside the context of a larger organization
  • Which achievements show that the candidate can work well with a team?
  • Has the candidate changed jobs from time to time?
    • This shows a candidate’s ability of getting out its comfort zone and being successful in different environments

Personal branding

  • How do candidates present themselves? (CV, LinkedIn, personal website, etc.)
  • What do they talk about on social media?
    • These points tell me a lot about their personal culture
    • Are the candidates fast learners
    • And whether they can be commercially successful

You wouldn’t want to know how many scrappy LinkedIn profiles or people wearing sunglasses in their profile picture I see…

Vibe

We regularly organize speed dates at the office where candidates engage with each other and people from our team. In these situations, I ask myself:

  • Does someone bring good energy to our office?
  • How does someone behave in a group?
  • …present themselves?
  • …ask good questions to the others?
  • …allow the others to ask questions/provide input?
  • And…what do people do when I meet them one-on-one, and I leave them alone in the office for 5 minutes (this is an interesting one!).

Mindset

  • How has the candidate managed unexpected, difficult situations? These can be work-related or related to their private life.
    • Required to find out how someone copes with pressure, loss, disappointment

I hope these questions help you find the innovators you’re looking for.

To sum it all up: Look beyond the obvious and look and listen deep.