Hire Innovators and Let Them Innovate

Hire Innovators And Then Let Them Innovate

One of my favorite questions when I am interviewing candidates is, “Which is more important – creativity or following policy to the letter?”.

I like this question because I really enjoy working with smart, creative, confident thought leaders. The people that answer “creativity” frequently go on to tell me how they made a process or situation better using common sense or innovation to devise the tools they needed. These people are, typically, strong in self-development, asking for stretch assignments and for being highly-productive and proactive with their metric accountability, staffing and people issues, and their time-management.

In my experience, the people that answer “following policy” are the people that say they can execute their essential job functions but cannot effectively action items, multi-task efficiently, and they tend to make a lot of excuses.

The biggest challenge I have seen as far as the “people” area of retail is companies allowing innovative people to be innovative. Having several years of HR experience, I understand policies and procedures and accountability placed around those things but there is, frequently, room for improvement and a need to update or revamp a process. One of my personal philosophies with my team is always “Don’t tell me what you cannot do, tell me what you can!”. My creative team members can work with what they have and create what they need to run their business and get their jobs done very well. The “policy” people will, very often, pick up the phone or send an email for every single piece of the business they are missing and let their supervisor know and ask for guidance.

All too often retail companies will seek to espouse a culture of innovation and creativity only to, in reality, tell employees to just execute the directives. Creative people are great at execution AND they are great at making educated substitutions when some of the pieces of the directives may be missing. In my experience, creative people are the best, most resourceful business partners.

In order to know the right type of hire to make you need to know your Company Values and Mission Statement and then you need to acknowledge the actual company culture. I have worked in companies that were all about “irreverence” and “not following the status quo” but in reality…they truly only wanted the very obedient, policy-following employees. That was the actual culture. Company/Corporate directions were disseminated at an elementary school level of comprehension which was very off-putting to highly-productive talent (and it was, ultimately, a morale and engagement killer). So – understanding the culture and hiring for cultural fit is the way to go unless (1) the senior executive are supportive of a culture change and will make adjustments to support a different type of environment or (2) if your team has little exposure to others and you can manage them directly with minimal interference. According to Forbes “89% of hiring failures are due to poor culture fit”. You need to hire for the cultural reality that exists in your business. If you don’t – it will lead to employee disengagement, high turnover rates, and elevated frustration levels.

If you are going to source innovative, creative talent you need to let them bring that into their role, encourage it, appreciate it, recognize it, and celebrate it!


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | beth@excellencein-retail.com [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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