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Hiring Nontraditional Talent The Pitfalls and Possibilities Hiring Nontraditional Talent The Pitfalls and Possibilities
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Hiring Nontraditional Talent: The Pitfalls and Possibilities

Jo Eisenhart •  April 25, 2017 | Business and Careers

MI24084-JeffIf you lead a marketing team, you probably hire marketing people. The same holds true for any function within an organization today, mine included. I’m in human resources, and my team consists largely of people with HR experience. But in recent years, I’ve had success bringing people on board who don’t have experience in traditional HR roles. Why? Because they have complementary skills that can help us think about our work differently.

One of the most notable examples happened a few years ago when my company was initiating a holistic review of our compensation and benefits plans. To manage this work effectively, I knew we needed to bring in people who were experts in big data and complex program management—capabilities that had not traditionally been part of our HR team. So I brought in people from our IT organization who had program management skills and who could help us understand how to use and interpret data to make better-informed decisions. Their contributions not only helped us predict the impact of various options on our employees, but their disciplined approach to program management also helped us design and implement the plan more effectively.

It was the right decision. To make big projects succeed these days, you need people who bring a variety of skills to the table. The experience, however, wasn’t without its challenges. Hiring people who bring different backgrounds to a team can open the door to both pitfalls and possibilities.

The Pitfalls

People may resist change. When I first shared my hiring strategy with my team members, some of them questioned the need to reach beyond the traditional HR skill set. So I spent time helping them understand the “why” behind the decision and the value this would bring to our work. While they were skeptical at first, over time they understood and came to rely on the strengths our new colleagues brought to the team.

It can create challenges. When you bring together people from different disciplines, there’s always a risk that viewpoints will collide and the work will stall. Of course, bringing different viewpoints to the table is precisely why you want a diverse team to work on your most difficult problems, so you need to manage through these challenges. The leader plays an important role in making sure everyone understands the goals of the work and knows how to overcome disagreements to realize the benefits of the various skill sets.

The Possibilities

Professional growth. On the plus side, a healthy collaboration between two very different functions can broaden the skill sets of everyone. Two of the IT people I hired have since moved on to different roles in the company. Each of them told me that their time on our HR team gave them a better understanding of our company overall and a greater appreciation for the role of leadership in company strategy.

Innovative thinking. Hiring outside our traditional areas of expertise continues to help us move our discipline forward. Our IT team members taught us to think differently and to understand the value of data, analytics and program management in our work. This has helped us approach new problems with a broader framework.

Bringing IT expertise onto our HR team certainly disrupted our status quo—for the better. With complementary skills, we now have broader capabilities, greater strength and a diversity of thought that has helped us raise the bar on how we solve problems.

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