In order to grow and succeed, employers need to think outside the box – and that applies to hiring, too. You want employees that fit in with the culture of the company, but you don’t want a bunch of “yes” men and women who don’t deviate from the status quo.
“Companies need someone from the outside who has done it in a different way,” says Mark Jaffe, president of Wyatt & Jaffe, the executive search firm. “They need an infusion of other DNA that is compatible with their DNA but not identical.”
Diversity matters, but what it means to a company has changed over the years. In the past diversity was all about recruiting more women and minorities, but now it’s about attracting people from outside industries or backgrounds who can bring their experiences to the table. Companies that are serious about diversifying their talent pool know that the more willing they are to expand their horizons the better chance they will have of getting new ideas.
But, before a company can diversify, it needs to first determine how it wants to do that and what are the benefits of doing so. It’s not enough to diversify for the sake of diversification. There has to be a clear reason and value-add to hiring people outside their previous comfort level.
The employers have to ask themselves: “What do I mean by diversity, and how will this benefit our business whether its service-, retail- or informational-oriented,” says Pat Sweeney, human resource manager at Old Colony Hospice and Palliative Care. “It’s important especially if you are visible and want the public you’re serving to see you are representative of them.” Take Sweeney’s company for an example. The hospice is located in a community that is home to vast array of ethnicities and religions, which is why the company goes out of its way to ensure the workforce matches that demographic. “It’s no longer one homogeneous group of people, it’s a mixture of many backgrounds,” she says.
In the past it was easy to find workers that matched the demographic of the company, but long gone are the days of placing ads in newspapers. These days, recruiters have to rely on job fairs, local colleges and universities and the Internet to find that talent, says Sweeney. “When it was print ads you could target neighborhood newspapers and specialty publications, but since recruiting is rarely done by print media you have to rely on technology, social media and employee referrals,” she says. “You have to go to the career fairs that will draw a wide, diverse labor market to it.”
Even more challenging to companies is diversifying to bring in different skill sets or different ways of thinking. After all, if the company operated in the same industry for decades and all it knows is that field, then their knowledge of the outside world will be limited. According to Jaffe, one way to tackle that is to look at other industries to find the right talent. “If you are in the agriculture business, maybe hire somebody that comes out of the consumer electronics industry who understands supply chain management,” says Jaffe. That person might not do exactly what your company does but he or she may possess the generic skills needed plus success in applying those skills in a different way. Jaffe points to the early days of the Internet as an example. Some of the most successful dotcom companies were run by non-tech CEOs.
To find those stars of other industries, employers have to do their homework to come up with a list of respected people in supply management, marketing or whatever role they are looking to fill. Once the company zeroes in on who it want to hire, luring them could be easy partly because of diversity. “If you’re trying to turn around your airline, you say to the person, ‘do you want to be a consumer electronics person for the rest of your life, or do you want to stretch yourself and expand your horizon,’” says Jaffe. Often people will jump at the chance to broaden their skills and resume.
Companies can even tap executives from competitors to diversify if the culture is different or the business approach varies, but for leaders in an industry they have no other choice but to look in other fields. “If you’re Starbucks would you go to the number two, three or four in your category to recruit people?” says Jaffe. “Why would you if you’re the top team?”