Innovation Talent Inventories

Faced with a situation or opportunity that demands you try something new or change what your organization does, the type of knowledge, skills, and experience required is often different than what is used to maintain the status quo. One of the most overlooked places to look for this talent is right under our noses — or beaks — and that your birds of a feather might be closer together than you knew.

An innovation talent inventory is an exercise that organizations are advised to undertake every 6-12 months (depending on the level of dynamism within the organization and industry) to assess the talent within your organization.

Why an Inventory?

Talent acquisition and retention is a costly part of organizational development. Hiring staff often means looking at a variety of skills, yet may only enlist a few of them for a specific job. Over time it becomes easy to lose track of or forget that your team may have skills and experiences that can be brought to bear on your current project.

The process of undertaking an inventory is also a means of recognizing and reminding your team of who is on it. By looking at your staff through the lens of innovation, it’s also possible to identify attributes that were not germane at hiring or recruitment but have evolved into a need at the present day. Whether its a certification course, extra-mural activities like coaching sports, or experience working in a particular sector, these previously non-recognized experiences can now serve to support your team’s innovation project.

Undertaking an Inventory

There is no prescriptive means of undertaking an inventory and we recommend the following:

Informal interviews. Simple coffee-time conversations can make a big difference and have the added benefit of allowing your team to build trust and commitment to the innovation project in the process. Toronto-based software firm Freshbooks encourages their team to go on ‘blind dates’ (not real ones) over coffee with staff in other departments so that they can learn from each other. Informality allows for conversations to wander to different parts of a persons’ career that might have been previously unexplored.

Resume reviews. Whether it is looking over your team’s personnel files or LinkedIn pages (all with permission and consent of your team, of course), a review of the current set of listed skills, experiences and certifications can jog your memory about what talent your team already has. Being transparent about why you’re doing this and ensuring that any exploration is done solely for the purpose of the innovation talent inventory is essential. This can be a powerful means for team and trust-building if done right and harmful if done poorly.

Surveys. A simple exploratory survey asking individuals to identify skills and abilities (less about knowledge) can catalogue your teams’ ideas and suggestions. The one risk with this approach is that many staff might still see themselves in their current role and frame their responses according to that. Like with the interviews, focusing on a person’s journey rather than their current destination is key.

Visual Mapping. Another fun and informative strategy is to use visual maps where individuals either self-plot or are plotted on a map of the situation. Plotting out the needs, wants, and opportunities on a simple large-sheet of paper and then having individuals place themselves closest to where they fit related to those needs, wants, and opportunities can be highly participatory. This works by having the page posted on a wall in a common area for a few days (e.g., coffee room) or using an electronic tool such as Miro or Mural.

Together, you will find yourself and your team learning much from what you already have and putting underused or unknown talents to work to help take your idea forward. You’ll know so much more about what you already know (and didn’t realize).

Need help putting this together? Contact us and we can show you how to engage your team and learn more, together, to set yourself for innovation, by design.

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