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  • John Chambers, PhD

Talent Management; Innovation Management

“Why do you want to join the force?”

“To protect the property and citizenry of –"

“Ah, don't waste my time with that bull----”

Characters, Jim Malone and Giuseppi Petri,

The Untouchables (1987)

A couple decades after he was Agent 007, the late Sean Connery assumed the role of a different agent -- the hard-knuckled and semi-jaded, Chicago beat cop, Jim Malone. The Untouchables violently chronicled federal agent Elliott Ness, whom Malone helped build a team. Malone sought the right skills for the dangerous work but, moreover, he sought guys who would fit the culture: an edgy, “badass” culture.

So in a standing interview by the police firing range, he asked 'Giuseppi Petri' why he wanted to be a cop. Having no patience for a mumbled recitation of the Chicago Police Department mission, Malone listened for motivation, characteristics, tendencies that would fulfill an unforgiving, fearless and brutal role.

He angrily provoked the candidate.

Then realized he found the right guy.

Now mind you, recalling the scene, I recommend neither Jim’s nor Giuseppi’s behavior for interviewer and interviewee, respectively. That is, unless you want to be arrested and hauled to your local police station. I would ask, however, that leaders and managers attract professionals that fit the culture of the team, and who will adapt. Consider professionals whose skills-transferability shall be the driver of disruption.

While the police department’s mission ("protection of property and citizenry" in the movie) felt like nonsense in the darkness of gangland warfare, it was actually right and appropriate. It was the application of the mission, within the film narrative, which was broken. The metropolitan backdrop was laced with corruption, yet nobody wanted to disrupt the usual way of doing things. In 1931 Chicago, who would blame them? The city needed a courageous change agent, a disruptive force, to thwart the culture of illegitimacy; it needed professionals whose culture matched the nobility of purpose.

Personality and attitude advance your culture more than tick-marks against every miniscule “nice to have” experience. (And I can only hope yours is not having to fight criminals). Giussepi was good with a gun, an employment requirement. But his shooting skills were not enough. At least not to Malone. Loyalty, commitment, toughness, passion were the characteristics that got Giussepi the job. Similarly, your team depends on loyalty, commitment and passion, and the manner in which individuals will engage teammates and competition.

Unless you’re a soldier or cop, your team requires less dramatic, yet just as important, skills: finance and marketing; technology and management; products and projects; integrity and influence; analysis and drive. These capabilities are an expectation, and for many, they transcend sectors.

Malone would probably have been a good cop, wherever he landed. While he may not have required a firearm, his skills of observation, clarity, toughness could have also proven him as manager of an oil rig or a factory foreman. Oscar Wallace, the “Untouchables” accountant, was the perfect foil against Al Capone’s money laundering. His analytical and mathematical skills were as valuable in the 1930s era of Prohibition as they would be for a present-day, legitimate brewery.

You have transferrable skills across many sectors.

A Forbes article identified seven of them for job changers: "Technical; Communication; Critical Thinking; Multitasking; Teamwork; Creativity; Leadership.”

However, I characterize those examples as too broad and intangible. I recommend that you identify skill-transferability at a more granular and applicable level.

Take, for example, “working knowledge of HIPAA requirements.” If you’ve had to validate systems under the FDA’s drug development mandates, or you spent years proving compliance to ISO in your manufacturing environment, or you are expert in cyber security’s NIST framework, then you have the potential for as much value in the Health arena, even though you haven’t yet participated in a HIPAA audit. The required skill (at a leadership level) pertains to “expertise in the complexities/nuances of compliance” -- a very transferable skill. You will readily learn the health guidelines and your versatility will meet the need. That transferable skill is not function-specific but rather implementation-specific. With analytical experience under a regulatory governance model, your versatility lies in applying best practices, from one standard to another.

This is not to downplay the necessity of certifications in various disciplines.

It’s understood that fundamentals are required – spoken languages or software languages; regulatory licenses and legal expertise; technical experience and empirical know-how. But the knowledge of a sector itself is less important than aptitude for advancing a sector, by way of scientific or business methodologies.

The traits that made you a crack financial analyst will work throughout industry.

The abilities you have in creating and managing a product line are independent of product type.

Not all, I agree; but many.

Crafting corporate strategies for operational excellence or disruption shall depend on your extensive business acumen, and your ability to digest a field’s necessities.

You can apply those skills across many corporate value propositions.

They are the transferable skills that make you valuable. They are the essence of versatility.

In developing a culture of innovation, we require talent that fits.

The leaders we want in our organization need more than just foundational experiences. They must represent a culture of adaptation and creative pursuit. Police officer Jim Malone was motivated by the sharp-shooting skills of Petri. But he was sold on him because of the young man’s attitude and aptitude.

He fit the mold of “The Untouchables” team.

Seek minds that ably meet technical skills but, more importantly, seek minds that fit the culture – those who can balance micro and macro forces, driving disruption through investigation, curiosity and creativity.

Entrepreneurialism is borne of the creative, the versatile, who can transfer experiences into new adventures -- the embodiment of innovation. In a high level view of steps to innovation, Vikas Gaur writes, "Companies that employ inflexible organisational structures and legacy operating models often create blind spots... incapable of handling unpredictable market threats."

I would say that, organizationally, go one further, embed innovation as a culture, not a function.

Attract team members who can quickly ascertain and embrace the firm’s value proposition and market forces. But recognize transferable skills in an environment where possession of every single technical skill is exceedingly hard to come by.

If your firm wishes to be disruptive, truly disruptive, then why insist on just a record of experiences that represent doing things the same way they were always done?

The “Untouchables” had to go about business in a different manner, not in a way most of us wish to live.

Their mandate of disruption was smashing the leader of a ruthless crime syndicate. They sought to disrupt an embedded, regionally-accepted, and corrupt force. Against the threat of violence, the men sought change, in a world that makes ours look like Sesame Street.

While the team’s basic policing skills were in demand, something else took precedence – the men’s characters, how they differed from the rank and file.

Without stating it, they actually were embracing the noble mission, in their ability to prepare for the unexpected, in their aptitude for adaptation, and in their loyalty to each other.

Throughout industry today, by and large, we live among institutional frameworks that, while not perfect, are miles away from organized crime. Most of us are fortunate. Nevertheless, the principles of cultural fit and disruption are as important to your organization as they were to a Depression-era team of agents, combatting the seedy and violent forces of criminality.

“What are you prepared to do?”

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