Hire people who stay relevant, or your business will become irrelevant

Hiring workers who stay relevant in their fields is paramount if businesses hope to stay competitive – especially when it comes to driving sales and building relationships with customers.

While we’ve often heard the IT skills gap is a drain on small to mid-sized businesses who feel employees lack technical know-how, it’s also important to have employees who are not only knowledgeable about IT, but are also socially savvy.

That was one of the themes coming out of a press briefing among the founders of companies working with Salesforce.com, Inc. The company, which Forbes Magazine named number one in innovation in 2011 and 2012, is known for its customer relationship management (CRM) platform. It allows companies to manage their customer data.

Founders at the briefing said today’s companies need to leverage the power of mobile devices, Big Data, apps, the cloud, and social networks. And actually, if you’re not doing these things now, you’re going to become obsolete, said Daniel Debow, senior vice-president of Work.com at Salesforce.

“It’s virtually competitive suicide to not think about how [social and mobile communication] will impact your workforce … And I think what we’re finding is that the big mega-trends … like the mobile revolution and social revolution, there’s no way to block out people’s lives from these trends that are happening in society,” he says.

“Each different company is adapting in its own ways, but the only ones who aren’t adapting are the ones that I fully predict will be out of business in five to 10 years.”

That’s something that Bruce Poon Tip, founder of travel site G Adventures, can attest to. He’s spent the last 18 months looking for a new vice-president of global sales, but still hasn’t hired anyone because he wants to wait to make the right choice.

“If I look at the person I hired for [a position] in 2008, versus the person I hired today, I think that person would be completely different. I think the skill set would be completely different. I feel business moves that fast,” he said.

Following this advice, businesses might be tempted to hire very young, very Facebook and Twitter-savvy employees fresh out of school to keep up with a mobile, social environment. But it’s not so much about age as it is about mindset, said Brian Spaly, founder and CEO of Trunk Club, an e-commerce store for men’s clothing.

“I just hired a 45-year-old, very senior executive to be the president of my custom business … and this guy texts me like a 14-year-old girl. It’s unbelievable, it’s emoticons and acronyms and everything else, and it’s one of the most interesting litmus tests – is this a guy who’s too old to work at a young company?” said Spaly.

“[But] he’s super savvy, he carries two iPads with him at all times … he’s the oldest person in our company by quite a bit … For him, he’s never going to become irrelevant because he adapts every week and every month with what’s going on and what’s new.”

Spaly added the hallmarks of current, up-to-date employees are ones who have a real curiosity towards technology and who are willing to adapt. In the past, employees might only have to learn a new system like Windows or IBM once every few years, but all that has changed now, he said.

Poon Tip agreed.

“There’s really relevant 50-year-olds in my business, and very irrelevant 25-year-olds. It’s about how they embrace technology in their own lives, how they embrace social revolution in their own lives.”

And don’t think the need to keep up with this social revolution is limited to startups or smaller companies. Rick Duha is CEO of the Duha Group, a family-owned manufacturer of colour marketing tools. The company has a history in the space of more than 60 years.

“Traditional manufacturing, you’d think would be the last place in the world to get [shifts in the workforce],” he said. “But we’ve actually opened our own school, the Duha Centre of Excellence, and we teach our own staff … with over 2,000 graduates in the last 18 months … teaching continuous improvement and social change.”

“So we can’t attract the best people in the world since we’re not the sexiest business, so we’re teaching them how to be social ourselves.”

Even the way employees expect to go to work has completely shifted, founders agreed. Employees working under Poon Tip and Duha work from home all the time. And while Spaly doesn’t favour that approach, he said one of the major benefits of being mobile and social is being able to be connected all the time – something that’s going to happen increasingly inside the office and out.

“Some of the serendipity of not being perfectly connected all the time might be lost, or some of the ability to be in their own thoughts versus being plugged in 100 per cent of the time. I would say the thing that resonates the most with me … is that if I didn’t have a [mobile], I wouldn’t be here,” Spaly said.

“I think for us, the big challenge for this technology is finding that right balance of making the sales team and stylist … leverage technology but not actually lose that human component of what we do.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Candice So
Candice Sohttp://www.itbusiness.ca
Candice is a graduate of Carleton University and has worked in several newsrooms as a freelance reporter and intern, including the Edmonton Journal, the Ottawa Citizen, the Globe and Mail, and the Windsor Star. Candice is a dog lover and a coffee drinker.

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