Spotting and Supporting Change Makers
Amy Radin, Author, The Change Maker’s Playbook: How to Seek, Seed and Scale Innovation In Any Company
Hard work, persistence, passion, and resourcefulness propel change makers forward. But so does the ability to spot and support other changemakers to join forces with you – to attract them to your organization, and then to help them succeed.
You may be a doer of many things, but you are also a leader, coach, and orchestra conductor as you assemble the team to advance the innovations delivering value to users and growth to your enterprise.
Demonstrate every day that you are running relentlessly towards success to attract and win change makers over to your cause. Show your commitment to taking the team along with you, and they will be energized to pursue tough challenges.
A “Do” and “Don’t” for Assessing Change Makers
You may have or lack administrative and process support to manage people. It doesn’t matter – it is still your job alone to set the bar on talent, not HR’s. You have hustled for dollars, technology, and whatever other resources have been essential to drive progress. Finding and engaging the best people tops the list of resources in importance, impact, and worthiness of your time and attention.
Evaluating candidates is a learned skill, and frankly, most hiring managers are terrible at asking the right questions and listening actively during interviews to get the information needed for good decisions.
Here are two do-it-yourself, easily learned practices to be a more effective assessor of a candidate’s track record as a change maker:
- Do ask: “Tell me about a time when …” This lead-in gets to specific examples of how a candidate has demonstrated a sought-after skill. Example: Tell me about a time when you worked through ambiguous data or conflict to make a decision.” Or, “tell me about a time when you implemented an unexpected change in direction with no time to spare.” Pursue the answer with a critical probe: “And then what did you do?” Or, “What did you say next?” Or, “How did others react to your approach?” The idea is to dig (gently) until you can envision what actually happened – to have the sense of having been in the room, or watching over the candidate’s shoulder, as they lived through a moment exemplifying their behavior and decisions relevant to your needs now.
- Don’t ask: “What would you do …” This lead-in invites conjecture, which is worthless. Answers that are conceptually sound but not linked to behavior do not prove ability. Smart people know what to say to generate the right answer, whether or not they are able to pull off what they are describing. It is too easy for a candidate to say the right stuff (and, by the way, fully believe it) but not know how to roll up their sleeves and make it happen.
Foster a culture of execution for results
Research undertaken a few years back at Google identified five team characteristics associated with strengthening a delivery-oriented culture of innovation. 
- Dependability. Work is completed on time, in line with expectations.
- Structure and Clarity. Clear goals and roles are in place.
- Meaning. People gain personal significance through their work.
- Impact. The work has purpose and affects the greater good.
- Psychological safety. People are comfortable taking risks.
The environment you create will attract and sustain people who want to be in your kind of culture, good or bad. Your culture is unique to you. So don’t try to make it like someone else’s. Learn from others, seek role models, but know who you are. Be sensitive to how culture drives the talent you will land, and whether they will stay and be effective.
Above all, look for changemakers who know the things that you don’t know, and who like to do the things that are not high on the list of the things you love to do.
While change makers share common mindset and abilities they are not a homogenous group, so seek diversity among the insight-driven, resourceful, collaborative, take-the-hill people you bring on board to advance your innovation goals. Then, set them up to succeed by maintaining a high bar on culture and environment so they have structure and clarity around goals, find meaning in their work, are able to deliver impact, and are comfortable taking risks.
About the Author
Amy Radin, author of The Change Maker’s Playbook: How to Seek, Seed and Scale Innovation In Any Company, is a recognized Fortune 100 chief marketing and innovation officer with a record of moving ideas to performance in complex businesses, including Citi, American Express, E*TRADE and AXA. Amy is passionate about developing innovations that can create sustainable, business-changing impact. She now advises high-growth start-ups on business development and marketing, and is an accomplished keynote speaker. Follow Amy on Twitter and LinkedIn.
 Michael Schneider, “Google Spent 2 Years Studying 180 Teams. The Most Successful Ones Shared These 5 Traits,” inc.com, July 19, 2017.