How to hire change-ready people: 8 signs

How can hiring managers identify job candidates with the greatest capacity to not only tolerate – but seek out – productive change? Consider these key indicators
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IT leaders are all too familiar with the challenges of change resistance. The most skilled CIOs know what steps to take to understand and address fear, uncertainty, and doubt concerning IT-enabled change.

As we settle into an era in which continual – and often, transformational – change is the rule rather than the exception, IT leaders are naturally eager to shift their focus to change readiness. “Change always makes people feel uncomfortable, but the employees that seem to thrive with frequent change tend to be open minded,” says Dennis Theodorou, managing director with executive search firm JMJ Phillip. “[They are] also constantly thinking about how to make the business better. These employees also tend to pivot quickly without much delay or dwelling.”

This is especially true when it comes to the IT organization itself. As the technology function not only leads ongoing technology-enabled change but experiences ongoing transformation itself, the value of having change-ready folks on the team is clear. “Being principled, practiced, and prepared for change and innovation can accelerate one’s ability to consistently and reliably contribute in fast-paced and cutting-edge industries,” says Rick Simmons, co-author of Unleashed: Harnessing the Power of Liminal Space and CEO of the Telos Institute, which helps leaders optimize their business strategy.

[ Where is your team's digital transformation work stalling? Get the eBook: What's slowing down your Digital Transformation? 8 questions to ask. ]

IT hiring: 8 signs of a change-ready person

How do you identify those would-be team members with the greatest capacity to not only tolerate – but seek out – productive change? There are some key indicators of such dynamism in IT professionals (whether job candidates or current employees) that IT leaders can look for as they seek to fortify their change-ready forces for the future.

1. Willingness to challenge the status quo

If you’re looking for change-ready people, keep an eye out for evidence of the willingness (and ability) to challenge processes. “The successful candidate will be able to share multiple stories where they successfully challenged convention and changes were made as a result,” says Simmons. “Similarly, they’ll be able to share a few instances where their input was heard and ultimately not adopted.”

2. Cross-functional finesse

Look for professionals with a demonstrated ability to work across boundaries, says Theodorou. You know those employees that are comfortable taking leadership roles in cross-functional situations? Those individuals more comfortable working outside their technical comfort zones are more likely to be your change-ready folks.

3. Ability to engage in healthy conflict

Ask potential hires to articulate the strategies they use to approach disputes or divergent opinions. This is additional evidence of competence in the area of change readiness. “Specific examples of when these approaches were implemented would only add to their candidacy,” Simmons says.

4. A positive, problem-solving mindset

Change resistors tend to adopt a negative attitude not only toward potential alterations in their environments, but overall. By contrast, change ready professionals tend to be solutions-oriented and reasonably sunny in disposition, says Theodorou. “Looking for examples of mental agility and flexibility is going to be really important,” adds Elizabeth Freedman, head of consulting at executive coaching and assessment firm Bates.

[ Want more hiring advice? Read IT hiring: 5 signs of a continuous learner. ] 

5. Openness to constructive feedback

“The ability and willingness to continually learn is a hallmark of success in innovative environments,” explains Simmons. One way to test for this on the fly is to observe how a potential hire responds to real-time feedback during the interview. Their reaction can serve as a measure of their comfort and confidence in this area, Simmons says.

6. Life-long learning

In particular, seek out those technology pros who are self-propelled when it comes to advancing their knowledge. “Look for those who are constantly learning and looking to improve their knowledge base of skills, coding languages, and general market factors,” advises Arran Stewart, co-founder recruitment platform Job.com. “You want the proactive team members who are already coming to you as management, telling you what they are researching and learning on top of their current knowledge base.”

7. Tendency to thrive in an agile environment

While and individual’s expertise has value, the ability to succeed in team-based roles can tend to correlate with change readiness. Comfort with an agile approach is even better. “Sharing specific examples of when and how a team-based approach bested the individual contributor model would distinguish the successful candidate,” Simmons says.

8. Humility

This is emerging as an important attribute among leaders and one that also indicates willingness and ability to change. Humility means, says Freedman, “not being locked into a point of view and recognizing others may have ways to approach problems, and the willingness to recognize others have good ideas.”

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.

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