During this year’s HR Technology Conference, I had the opportunity to hear Andrew McAfee from MIT talk about his book, “The Second Machine Age”. One point he made during the presentation was that organizations need to get better at hiring and engaging outsiders.
Outsiders are people that are not familiar with the organization or the industry. Many people and companies take the view that outsiders cannot contribute because they don’t understand the uniqueness of the company. Maybe you’ve heard these statements before:
“Our industry isn’t like everyone else’s.”
“Our company isn’t like our competitive set.”
Outsiders can have the ability to bring a fresh set of eyes to the company and its processes. For organizations looking to innovate, this can be particularly attractive. Years ago, I remember my boss saying that she intentionally hired me because I didn’t come from within the industry. I didn’t know the lingo. I knew nothing about how the operation worked. I was an outsider.
As someone who has worn the outsider hat, I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity. It can be difficult to break into a new industry. And that’s the second part of the conversation that needs to be had – Yes, it’s important for companies to break their traditions and hire outsiders. But we also need to prepare the outsider for their role.
Outsiders are hired for a reason. They need to understand that reason. They also need to have the skills to effectively disagree with the status quo, to persuasively present an alternative point of view, and to build positive working relationships with the insiders. Just being from another industry isn’t enough.
Outsiders need internal mentors and coaches to sometimes navigate corporate culture. They need internal sponsors who will stick by them when they are the dissenting opinion. Not everyone is ready to be an outsider and not everyone is ready to mentor an outsider.
If your organization is thinking their next hire should be an outsider, think about the questions you need to ask during the hiring process to determine if the candidate can be effective in their role:
- Tell me about a time when you were the lone opinion in a decision. What was the situation and how did you handle it?
- Share a situation when you had to convince someone to follow your recommendation. What was the issue and how did you resolve it?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but you get the point. To hire and engage outsiders successfully, both the company and the individual must be prepared. Simply hiring an outsider and leaving them to their own devices is setting them up for failure.
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What do you think about hiring outsiders to influence change in your organization? Would it work?
Image courtesy of HR Bartender