By Guest Author Marylene Delbourg-Delphis
In her new book, Everybody Wants to Love Their Job: Rebuilding Trust and Culture, Marylene Delbourg-Delphis draws from her extensive experience as a serial CEO, executive consultant, and board member to assesses the cons and pros of hiring people who “have done it before.”
Clichés have an advantage: they are self-explanatory. But the main drawback of these ready-made phrases is that nobody questions their meaning any longer.
Hiring people who have done it before can lead to two very different outcomes depending on the context you place them in. They can be innovation crushers, or oppositely, innovation springboards.
In Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance, Boris Groysberg shows that past success doesn’t predict future performance. Analyzing the case of a large data set of prominent analysts on Wall Street, he showed that most did poorly in the year after they left one company for another, and were not back up to their original level until years later, if ever. The reason for this phenomenon is pretty simple: while we hire people individually for their skill sets, their performance is not entirely dependent on their personal abilities, but rather on the company’s environment. As a result, when we poach a star, we can’t expect her to bring the firm-specific resources that supported her prior achievements.
As reassuring as it may be to attract people who have done it before, in reality, we end up hiring skills without the context in which they shone. So how can we reasonably assume that past experience will be as valuable as we’re given to believe? In truth, there’s no guarantee that stars can automatically repeat their winning streak in a new workplace.
Innovation springboards in the innovation engineering pool
People who have done it before can do it again if the organization that hires them re-contextualize their talent to maintain their relevance. In other words, they can be valuable if they are surrounded with imaginative peers who have completely different experience or skills – in other words, if they become members of a diverse innovation engineering pool that can leverage a past experience in a way that they, by themselves, probably wouldn’t be able to. Then stars can shine again:
In other words, experienced hires do have the potential to be “experimental innovators,” and encourage or spur important incremental innovations when their creativity is rekindled by a stimulating environment. Incremental innovation is nowhere near as praised as a breakthrough and radical innovation, yet it’s the most frequent type of innovation, and its strong rewards are worth advocating, as again postulated by Marcel Corstjens in a recent HBR article.