By: Kristina Potočnik
University of Edinburgh, UK
In competitive markets and especially within current global recession in which businesses are striving for survival, the organizations need to continuously innovate in order to gain competitive advantage (Potočnik & Anderson, 2012). However, any organization, either profit or non-profit, needs innovative talent to be able to produce organizational innovations. Companies are hence experiencing the challenge of how to select those individuals who will show innovative performance in their workplaces.
What personality traits and skills make employees innovative? What selection and recruitment methods are the most suitable for selecting for innovative performance? Surprisingly, important as these questions might be, the selection and recruitment literature to date has not yet offered any sound implications for practitioners concerned with these issues. There are many challenges related with selecting for innovative performance which could explain this rather unexpected finding. In this piece I discuss some of these challenges and suggest a few implications for practitioners concerned with selection of the innovative talent.
On one hand, implications for practice can be drawn from some previous studies in the field of selection and recruitment which has witnessed an increasing interest in selecting for innovative performance (Burch, Pavelis, & Port, 2008). For instance, different valid and reliable psychometric tools have been designed to predict innovative performance in the context of employee selection (e.g., Innovation Potential Indicator (IPI), Patterson, 2000). Practitioners could use these tools as part of their psychometric assessment when selecting for innovative performance.
On the other hand, research addressing selection for innovative performance in the real-life selection and recruitment contexts is almost inexistent (Potočnik & Anderson, 2012). One reason for this could be the difficulty to adequately operationalize the criterion (i.e. innovative performance). In the human resource management field innovative performance has most often been conceptualized as “the intentional introduction and application (within a role, group or organization) of ideas, processes, products or procedures, new to the relevant unit of adoption, designed to significantly benefit the individual, the group, the organization or wider society” (West & Farr, 1990, p. 9).
This very definition of the innovative performance implies that employees will exhibit novel behaviours which are beneficial to their organizations and are unexpected, in other words, unknown before they actually take place (Potočnik & Anderson, 2012). Furthermore, not all employees will exhibit optimal innovation potential in every situation and in every context. Finally, innovation research has also highlighted that producing innovations is, to a large extent, contingent on the wider organizational or institutional context.
According to this argument, organizations should develop a climate supportive of innovation in which employees feel psychologically safe to put forward their ideas and perceive sufficient organizational support to eventually implement them. In other words, because engaging in innovative behaviours does not only depend on employee innovation potential, a selection of innovative talent might not be enough to generate organizational innovations.
Considering these arguments, it is very difficult to select for very specific behaviours needed to produce innovations in a specific job. What can be done, however, is to select for specific personality characteristics and abilities which have been found to predict innovative performance in general. In this sense, some implications for practitioners can be drawn from the innovation and creativity studies which have explored the role of different personal characteristics in employee innovation (Hammond, Neff, Farr, Schwall, & Zhao, 2011; Potočnik & Anderson, 2012).
For instance, among the Big Five characteristics, openness for experience and extraversion have been consistently linked to innovative performance in the workplace (Hammond et al., 2011). Creative and proactive personality and core self-evaluations have also been found to predict innovative performance. Hence, practitioners are advised to screen job candidates against these characteristics if they are recruiting specifically for innovative performance. Regarding skills and abilities, practitioners are recommended to assess creative ability and intuitive thinking styles to increase the probability of selecting employees with higher innovation potential (Hammond et al., 2011; Potočnik & Anderson, 2012).
Taking into account these arguments, cognitive ability and personality tests seem to be highly suitable selection methods when selecting for innovative performance, but they should also include the assessment of creative ability and intuitive thinking styles together with the general mental ability and creative and proactive personality in addition to Big Five personality characteristics, respectively. Other highly suitable methods for selecting for innovative performance could be assessment centres and situational judgement tests.
Assessment centres normally comprise a mix of diverse selection methods, many of which can be used to assess the innovative dimension of candidates’ future job performance. For instance, written analysis exercise, semi-structured interview, mock presentation, team exercise, and simulation and role-play exercises in which job candidates should come up with novel and useful suggestions to solve problems or improve their work roles or established procedures of doing work, could be used to predict how successful job candidates will be in their future innovative endeavours.
Also situational judgement test can be very useful for the assessment of innovation potential of job candidates in specific situations which they will most probably experience in their future jobs. These are some intuitive suggestions, however, as future research should empirically establish the value and criterion-related validity of different selection methods when selecting for innovative performance.
After having outlined the above implications for practitioners concerned with selection of the innovative talent some final considerations warrant further attention. To start with, it is important to understand that innovative performance will in most cases constitute only one dimension of job performance (Potočnik & Anderson, 2012).
In other words, there are very few jobs, if any at all, in which employees are expected to engage only in innovative behaviours. Hence, practitioners should design their selection and recruitment strategies in a way that would allow them to select for different dimensions or facets of job performance at the same time.
This means that selection and recruitment practices should also take into consideration knowledge, skills and abilities needed to perform well in different areas of job domain, such as task efficiency, meeting deadlines and so forth. It is also important to highlight that it is not recommendable to look for an ideal profile trying to find a candidate who would score high on all of the above outlined characteristics to increase the probability of exhibiting high innovative performance.
Hiring an individual who would be very open to experience, highly extroverted, with high creative and proactive personality and intuitive thinking styles at the same time as opposed to conscientious individuals and those with more systematic thinking styles would very likely pose significant challenges to the organizations, such as maintaining discipline or other performance issues. Therefore, practitioners are advised to consider all aspects of candidate future job performance when designing their recruitment and selection procedures.♦
- Burch, G.S.J., Pavelis, C., & Port, R. L (2008), Selecting for creativity and innovation: The relationship between the innovation potential indicator and the team selection inventory,International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 16, 177-181.
- Hammond, M.M., Neff, N.L., Farr, J.L., Schwall, A.R., & Zhao, X (2011), Predictors of individual-level innovation at work: A meta-analysis. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 5, 90-105.
- Patterson, F (2000), The Innovation Potential Indicator: Test manual and user’s guide. Oxford: Oxford Psychologists Press.
- Potočnik, K., & Anderson, N (2012), Assessing Innovation: A 360-degree appraisal study. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 20, 497-509.
- West, M.A., & Farr, J.L (1990), Innovation at work. In M. A. West & J. L. Farr (Eds.), Innovation and creativity at work: Psychological and organizational strategies Chichester: Wiley.(pp. 3–13).