What Happens If We Start Hiring for Purpose, Not Skills

Aaron Hurst
Purposeful Management
January 21, 2016

Every professional field is undergoing major transformations to address market changes emerging in the Purpose Economy. The challenge for employers now is to find purpose-oriented talent (28 percent of the workforce according to our 2015 national study) who can quickly adapt to evolving industries that constantly demand new skills.

The increasing value of and high demand for purpose-oriented workers creates a new gap in the workforce — potentially more challenging than the skills gap. Targeting certain competencies over specific skills is the key to attracting and hiring this talent in the 21st century.

Nancy Hungerford, Redfin’s head of recruiting, initially tried recruiting skilled, experienced agents for her company’s disruptive new approach to buying and selling real estate. Redfin found that it was incredibly challenging to train many of these agents to work in a way that aligned with Redfin’s approach and values. This lack of adaptability is no surprise, given that our research showed only 18 percent of people in real estate are purpose-oriented. Finding those 18 percent and hiring them is a critical need for companies like Redfin.

Redfin recently announced that they would be hiring for purpose-orientation, rather than narrowing in on experience and skills. They are now recruiting high potential, purpose-oriented candidates without real estate experience and developing them to be the adaptive purpose-oriented agents the market is demanding.

Purpose > Skills

In the new economy, organizations should hire for agility rather than look for a specific set of skills. Leading employers that are proactively addressing this challenge articulate four needsnot skills — that they seek in their new hires. They want people who:

  1. Actively work on self-improvement
  2. Successfully advocate for their own needs
  3. Comfortably embrace change
  4. Can engage senior management

Organizations from LinkedIn to the YWCA have found that these competencies exist in high levels in a specific segment of the workforce. We call these members of the workforce “purpose-oriented,” as they are motivated to work to serve others and to grow as people. Purpose-oriented workers are also, not coincidentally, the highest performers across every measure.

Innovative companies are now focused on recruiting and developing purpose-oriented employees. They see that hiring for specific skills needed today is less valuable than recruiting individuals who can constantly tailor their work to meet the needs of their role in the future.

Slalom, a global consultancy headquartered in Seattle, is looking to hire over 1,000 new consultants in the next year. After years of experimenting, the Head of Recruiting, Tyler Shada, found that "senior leaders really get that you should hire for potential and not just skills. They know from their own experience that skills can be developed and change over time."

While a higher showing than in real estate, only one in four professional services employees are purpose-oriented. For Slalom, hiring for potential and building a team of purpose-oriented employees brings in talent needed to grow and thrive. Skills can be developed, but converting someone to become purpose-oriented is practically impossible.

Christine Schultz, Collier’s International Chief Marketing Officer, has been on the front line of this change. "Hiring is one of the greatest challenges in marketing now,” shared Schultz. “The field has evolved more in the last two years than the previous 15. Marketing, technology and human resources — all of these functions are starting to overlap. The skills needed today are different and will likely change again in the next two years." As change continues to accelerate in the economy and work, skills can no longer be the focus of recruiting. We need to develop a workforce that is purpose-oriented and able to adapt.

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