Should you look outside your sector for talent?

When it comes to hiring a new member of the board, there’s long been the question of whether to focus more on a candidate’s knowledge of and experience within the sector, or their unique talent, skills and abilities. It seems natural to favour a combination of the two, but the fact is that this doesn’t always exist.
In these cases, for the past 10 years many businesses have gone for a safe pair of hands – someone with years of experience in their sector – but, for various reasons, such a stance is becoming fundamentally flawed. In 2018, it seems high time for organisations to start looking outside of their sector for the talent to take them to the next level.

Technological advances, the introduction of new business models and the changing political and economic climate have all helped to redefine what makes for a ‘good’ candidate for c-suite roles. Of course, job descriptions have changed dramatically, with candidates having to adapt and learn new skills in order to compete. However, more importantly, with the boom in technology and automation, new critical roles are emerging – roles for which an ‘experienced’ candidate simply doesn’t exist. What’s more, two thirds of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in a job role that has not yet been invented.

In addition, millennials – known for their confidence, drive and, crucially, early adoption of technology – are stepping into management positions and will be the leaders of the future. While they may not have 10 years’ leadership experience in any one industry, they are dynamic and flexible – worthy attributes. By sticking to rigid rules now, in terms of who belongs on the board, businesses could be stunting their growth. As such, we’d argue that they should attribute more worth to the ‘human’ elements of a candidate: what skills and attributes they can bring, rather than their knowledge or experience.

Why broaden the net?

The general benefits of being open to outsiders are obvious. People with non-conventional backgrounds can use their fresh perspective to help a business to embrace change and ensure it doesn’t get left behind. Somebody who isn’t familiar with a sector will ask ‘stupid’ questions – although there is no such thing – and challenge the views of those who are perhaps so entrenched in a sector that they can’t see the wood for the trees.

For example, before the recession, we worked extensively with a FTSE 100 consumer business that saw huge success from challenging the way they did things. Their focus was to find candidates who possessed the behaviours needed to help them achieve their ambitious targets, irrespective of the sector they had experience in, and it paid dividends.

Another sector we work with, general manufacturing, has consistently proven the positive commercial effect of calling on the skills of those from further afield to enrich their proposition. Pre- and post-recession, general manufacturing businesses have improved their productivity as a result of mining talent from sectors that are world class, such as automotive, aerospace and FMCG, where there’s a constant source of top-quality candidates.

Companies that use Lean Six Sigma methodology to focus transformation efforts not just on efficiency but also on growth also tend to be sector-agnostic – all for the better. For them, it’s about continual improvement of skills that can be applied universally, rather than a finite remit of industry expertise.

What now?

In the current climate, leaders can be guilty of wearing rose-tinted glasses and convincing themselves that everything is perfect as it is – an attitude that, when it comes to headhunting, can be pernicious. The power of a fresh pair of eyes can’t be denied and the fact remains that, in the majority of management and leadership roles at exec level, the same principles apply whichever industry you’re in.

That’s why, at Howgate Sable, we actively challenge our clients to stretch the brief and would encourage all businesses – whatever the sector – to take off their blinkers, too, with their next big hire. By shunning antiquated models and embracing candidates from all backgrounds, you’ll have access to the best possible pool of talent to help your company thrive.

Could you do with looking outside your sector for talent? Get in touch to find out how we can help.

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Article by – Howgate Sable – InterSearch UK