If there’s one major lesson business leaders can learn from this year, it’s that adaptability is an essential skill any organization needs in order to survive challenging and changeable times. However, in order to thrive rather than just survive, companies must go beyond simply adapting to change as it happens and instead focus on innovating to stay ahead of the curve.
At Recruitics, we’re industry-recognized leaders in recruitment marketing innovation, and we’re always working to make things easier for talent teams by bringing new ideas to life. We recently sat down with Tim Dineen, our Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Recruitics, to discuss what it means to be an innovator in the talent acquisition space.
Here are his thoughts on the importance of innovation, expert tips for encouraging innovative thinking in your own organization, and why he compares the innovation process to building a snowman.
Q: You’re the Chief Innovation Officer at Recruitics. For people who might not know, what does that mean? What does your role entail?
A: Generally, I see innovation as the way that our work evolves when we learn new information, listen to others, communicate ideas, and struggle to solve challenges.While my job title includes the word “innovation,” I think everyone in the company has a role in helping us innovate. Every day, we all individually help the company evolve via the improvements we make, the needs or opinions we voice, and the client solutions we create, each of which add up to innovation for Recruitics.
Essentially, my job is that I get to try things. My role isn’t structured in a way that I have to do a certain thing in a certain way, using certain programming language, or using certain data. I have the freedom to mix and match data in different ways to look for things that spark new ideas. From there, I’ll create something -- I’ll write queries, I’ll do something unique that we haven't done before. If it works -- if it’s useful to the company, or even just to one client -- then the full product and engineering team can take over to help bring the project to life at scale.
At Recruitics, we’ve never said, “Okay this is what we do, let’s never change it.” We’re always evolving. It’s important to us that we stay ahead of the curve and avoid getting stuck in our ways. The best way you can do that is to stay open to new ideas and information.
For example, we recognized some challenges early on when it came to managing programmatic advertising, specifically around open jobs. Our clients and our internal teams needed to thoroughly understand the performance of their job ads, but achieving that goal involved a lot of manual and time-consuming work. At the time, a programmatic job advertising platform that would help improve efficiency through automation just didn’t exist, so we had the idea to build one ourselves.
From that initial idea, we ended up developing Recruitics itself and the core functionality of our platform back in 2010. The rules-based engine we created then was really the first programmatic job ad optimization platform of its kind, and current versions are still continuously winning awards for industry innovation and technological advancement. It’s something that started with a vague idea about how we could solve these challenges we were facing, but we were able to take that idea and its solution then build it into this revolutionary platform that continues to evolve and provide solutions for even more challenges.
Q: I’m sure you have people coming to you with ideas all the time, how do you figure out which ones to prioritize or which ones are worth pursuing?
A: I think it mainly boils down to pain versus gain. Generally, the ideas worth pursuing are those that either work to alleviate the most pain or have the potential to create the most gain for the company.Choosing projects to pursue can require a lot of open communication and collaboration as well. Often, I’ll have a handful of ideas or projects that people want me to work on, and I’ll collaborate with the rest of the executive team to decide which projects have the potential to benefit the company the most.
I also stay involved and continue to work directly with clients whenever possible, so I hear about the challenges they’re facing firsthand on a daily basis. It helps me stay on top of new problems or needs that are arising in the industry. I hear about the needs our clients have, compare their challenges to those faced by other clients, and look for unique and creative solutions, which can sometimes be applied platform-wide to the benefit of all clients and our teams.
Q: Innovation is a complex concept, and it seems like everyone has their own interpretation of what it means to be innovative. How do you define innovation, and where does it come from?
A: The way that I look at innovation, you can’t get to the finish line - or even figure out where the finish line is sometimes - without taking that first step or running that first lap.Every path you take might lead you to a fresh idea, but you’ve got to start somewhere. If we wanted to build something from nothing, you might feel like you’re looking at a blank page all day trying to figure out what to do or how to fill the space. Sometimes you don’t really know what the destination is, but you’ve just got to start the journey and see where it goes.
I also look at innovation as an evolutionary process. There’s always some idea or some process that’s been around forever. The basis for the idea and the material you need is probably there, you just need to know how to put everything together. There's always something there, and as you're working with a client or working with technology, there's always something you can discover that would expand or improve upon what we do.
I see innovation as similar to taking snow on the ground and turning it into a snowman. I like this analogy because it demonstrates an evolutionary process, not a “light bulb” event. A simple core idea can lead to improvements and eventually, if everything works out, a big leap forward.It’s not a lightbulb that just switches on and becomes something fully formed and functional in an instant.
It’s something you have to work to build upon and shape into something meaningful or useful. Snow doesn’t just fall to form a completed snowman naturally, and innovation is not just something that happens out of the blue. Someone has to step in and roll the idea around a bit to mold it into a new shape.
Innovation is evolutionary and collaborative. It starts with an idea or a challenge that needs a solution in the same way that a snowman starts as a flake. Someone comes along and rolls a bunch of flakes into a snowball, and it gets bigger and bigger until it becomes something foundational that you can really build on. Then you roll a second snowball that eventually becomes the body, then a third that becomes a head.
As it grows, you can start focusing on the details. Someone joins in and adds a hat on top of the head, someone else finds branches to use for arms, and then another person gets the idea to stick a carrot on its face and call it a nose! When it's done, it may melt, but that’s okay. Even if it falls apart, you can walk away with ideas for things you can try in the future. You can learn what you might want to do differently or improve to build a bigger, better snowman next time. Before you know it, that thing that you started with -- that original idea or problem -- is so much more than what it was at the beginning. It’s something completely different and hopefully better.
There’s always a flake of snow, roll it up into a ball and all of a sudden it’s different.
Q: What can people do to inspire more innovation within their own organization? How can they encourage that?
A: To start, I think it’s important to have a team or members of your team that are being given the space and flexibility to try new things. It’s great to have someone in your organization whose role is fully dedicated to innovation, but just giving people that time and encouraging them to spend it thinking outside the box is a good jumping off point.I think the other important thing is to avoid putting too much structure in place that would prohibit open communication or the sharing of ideas. The more rigid a company gets -- like, “Oh you have a good idea? Well, fill out this form” -- that’s prohibitive in and of itself.
Sometimes what happens is people think, “Well, I’m just going to do the job I’ve been told to do and be done with it,” as opposed to thinking about better ways to potentially get the job done. If they believe the process is set in stone and unlikely to change, they might be discouraged from making suggestions for ways it could be improved. Ultimately, you’re losing out on that opportunity for innovation because you’re putting up a roadblock on communication or not effectively valuing your team and their ideas.
It also helps to expand your definition of an “innovative idea.” Ideas don't need to be the foundation for a new product or even offer a brand new concept. An innovative idea really any idea that could help you improve upon what you do or how you do it. The ideas that will be the best are those that are all around us every day! Sometimes those ideas can grow into being important parts of your company, improve your processes or the way you structure your teams, help you scale and earn, or maybe even all of the above!
In 2018, at the desire of several amongst our leadership team -- especially at the suggestion of Mark Jensen and Jonathan Zila, who are now our VP of Product and EVP of Client Strategy, respectively -- Recruitics initiated an internal event we called "Creatics," which was an all-hands "hack-a-thon" for folks to generate unique ideas for the betterment of the company. These ideas didn't need to be technical or code-based, they could be any idea whatsoever. It was at that time that I introduced the "Innovation as a Snowman" concept as a means to encourage all to participate. The intent was to empower any and all members of the team to create ideas regardless of their individual ability to "hack" a tech-based solution. This turned out to be a really great way to get people thinking creatively and give them a platform to express those thoughts.
A final note here is that you don’t need to worry about whether the ideas being put forward are going to become monumental game-changers. Don’t get blocked in by feeling like you need to wait for some huge revelation to strike, trying to “innovate” in a dark-room while meditating to Pink Floyd music, hoping to think of something out of the blue that could be the new or next “big thing!" Ideas that start small have their own value, and that shouldn’t be overlooked. It doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to be an idea worth pursuing.
Q: On the topic of keeping communication open and encouraging ideas, how do you manage that as an organization grows and expands? How can you take in new ideas without being overwhelmed as things scale up?
A: I think that’s the biggest trap that most companies fall into in terms of innovation, and they find that they don’t know how to deal with that or scale what they already have in place. They do what they’re accustomed to doing and what’s profitable for them, and don’t think about what’s beyond. They get stuck. If something’s working, the trap is that you’re just going to keep doing that because that’s what’s paying the bills, and why fix what doesn’t appear to be broken? So as a company gets solidified around something that works for them, they’re not thinking about the next thing anymore.
Having a dedicated research and development group -- or at least individuals with a certain amount of time to dedicate to innovation -- is a good place to start. If your company is only dedicating their energy to one program, you might be missing out on solving other needs for your clients.
I think you always just have to keep an eye out and keep free time available to try new things.
Innovation is important for any company that wants to continue to grow and evolve. Being able to stay ahead of the times and adjust to different needs in the market will put your business in a better position to achieve long-term success. We hope these tips from Tim have shown the importance of innovation for your team and will help with your company’s future innovation strategy.
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