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The key attribute to look for in your next employer

By: Brendan O'Donovan, Hays Group Marketing Director on May 6th, 2021

What are the factors you look at when deciding to apply to a company or not? Is it their compensation, benefits, or remote working options? If you have an eye on building your career, you might look beyond the things you’ll experience personally and look at the strength of the company itself – its market share, profitability, brand reputation.

All these things are important, and a conversation with an expert recruitment consultant can help you to navigate your options. However there’s also one other factor which you should look for, yet few people do.

Innovation – it matters for everyone

The hidden ingredient is a company’s commitment to innovation. If you work in R&D or business strategy, this is an obvious attraction – the chance to build or steer something new – but it’s something that everyone should consider and look for in a potential employer, whether you work in accounting, sales or anything else.

1. Innovation predicts a company’s future

The pace of change and disruption within almost all industries continues to accelerate, driven by technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things. Even the strongest companies of today could find themselves as the Kodak of tomorrow if they fail to embrace innovation, with implications for all their employees.

2. The benefits spread widely

Even if you aren’t directly involved in innovation efforts at a company, they can make it easier to succeed in your own role (for example in sales, it is easier to close a deal with a product which is kept ahead of the competition). Innovation will also add interest and variety to your work (for example giving a finance team the fresh challenge of forecasting revenues for a new product line.)

3. Not just about new products

The most successful companies recognize that innovation isn’t just about development teams, or customer-facing products and services, but that it’s an engine for improvement throughout an organization. The opportunity to change things for the better matters for every job, whether you work in HR, marketing or customer services.

4. An opportunity to build your resume

To succeed in an interview, the ability to tell a compelling story about your experiences is critical, and stories about innovation are some of the strongest. When we play a role in creating something new, it becomes much easier to talk about the difference we personally made and the impact on the business, in contrast to simply overseeing something someone else set up.

5. Good innovation is built on strong culture

Many of the cultural attributes which are important for innovation are the same attributes that make for a great place to work – honesty and transparency, collegiate organizations, a sense of purpose and ambition.

Signs of Commitment

So, if you believe innovation is important, is it as simple as finding companies who talk about innovation being at their core? Unfortunately, in a world where so many companies aspire to be the new Apple, Google or Amazon, claims of commitment to innovation are everywhere, and “Proudly Stagnant”. The real evidence of innovation is not in what a business says, but rather what it does, so here are some signs to look for:

1. Processes are clear

Despite the romantic notion of innovation as a mixture of art and chaos, in a business setting supporting processes are needed. Look for a clear picture of how ideas are collected, prioritized, tested and rolled out.

2. There aren’t ivory towers

Innovation is exciting, and some companies will have roles dedicated to it, with the result that innovative work can sometimes be (physically or culturally) walled off from the rest of the organization. While time spent on innovation will certainly vary across the organization, it should be everyone’s business to make a contribution

3. Customer closeness

One of the greatest stimuli for innovation in a business is input from customers. This doesn’t mean that customers should design new products (Henry Ford’s once said “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”). However, understanding customer needs is key (a car is a good response to “what are the drawbacks of horses?”). Look for signs of customer feedback reaching all parts of the organization.

4. Attitudes to failure are healthy

“Fail fast, fail often” is a common mantra in Silicon Valley, but in practice can be as unhealthy as refusal to take any risk, if it is used to justify pulling the plug on promising ideas too early, or makes a team less hungry to succeed. The best attitude to failure is somewhere between these two extremes; looking for success, but accepting failure where lessons have been learned, and the right decisions to iterate or stop have been made along the way.

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