Is Creativity Always an Asset in New Hires?

Posted on August 3, 2022

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Daniel Stein, PhDPower skills/Soft skills

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What the data says about the nuanced relationship between creativity and Quality of Hire

Do you think hiring creative people will help your organization succeed? As a People and Talent leader, to what extent should you encourage your recruiters to seek out creativity in applicants? 

Creative geniuses like Steve Jobs of Apple and Whitney Wolfe of Bumble led some of the most innovative companies of our generation. So, it’s probably tempting to declare that creativity is an asset and look for this strength in your job candidates. On the other hand, there are many examples of creative geniuses that failed to deliver business results and acted unethically, such as Adam Neumann of WeWork and Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos.

Thus, there are conflicting anecdotes on the value of creativity. In this blog, I define creativity and discuss how HR data can be used to determine whether hiring for creativity is an asset to your organization. 

What is Creativity?

Creativity is defined as “using original thinking to generate new ideas and solutions.” Harvard Business School Professor Teresa Amabile shares that creativity in business not only requires originality but also actionability. Creative ideas are new useful solutions, such as improving an existing product. Creativity is a power skill that can be relevant across organizations and roles. Even in accounting (which many view as an uncreative, rules-based profession), creative solutions (e.g., activity-based accounting) have led businesses to be more effective.

A Data-Driven Investigation Into Creativity as an Asset in Hiring

To understand whether creativity is an asset, I leveraged Searchlight’s proprietary database of pre-hire data and post-hire data. Specifically, I examined new hire creativity as well as new hire effectiveness:

  • To capture new hire creativity, Searchlight asks colleagues and direct managers to rate the new hire’s abilities and skills using a comprehensive list of work-related attributes vetted by organizational psychologists. Creativity is included in this power skills assessment. 
  • To capture new hire effectiveness, Searchlight asks direct managers to rate a new hire’s Quality of Hire, defined as the new hire’s performance and the likelihood of retention. Searchlight measures Quality of Hire throughout the employee onboarding experience at 45, 90,130 and 180 days.

Measuring a new hire’s creativity and Quality of Hire enabled me to test whether creativity positively or negatively influences new hire effectiveness, answering the question whether creativity is an asset. 

For this analysis, I focused on two similar financial services firms. Both of these firms were in the financial services industry, have more than $1 billion in annual revenue, and were in the midst of launching new technology-driven products. Thus, these firms are very similar.

Based on these similarities, I expected to find a similar relationship between new hire creativity and Quality of Hire. But, the results were surprising!

In one of the firms, new hires that were creative had a statistically higher Quality of Hire, indicating creative (vs. uncreative) new hires performed better and had a stronger likelihood of retention. For this firm, I conclude that creativity is an asset. 

In the other financial service firms, I found the opposite results: new hires rated as creative had a statistically lower Quality of Hire, indicating creative (vs. uncreative) new hires performed worse and had a weaker likelihood of retention. For this firm, I conclude that new hire creativity is a liability. 

These results are powerful because they show that a specific Power Skill can be an asset or liability depending on the specific organizational context. These analyses also show the power of HR data in unlocking unique insights. Based on these insights, the former organization should specifically seek creativity in potential new hires, while the latter should avoid explicitly seeking creativity in potential new hires. 

To understand whether creativity is an asset or liability for your organization, you will need to first assess a new hire’s creativity and then track the new hire’s key performance outcomes. At Searchlight, we call this a virtuous cycle of connecting talent data with outcomes data. Searchlight’s Predictive Talent Platform automates the virtuous cycle, analyzing highly successful new hires and highlighting the attributes (such as creativity) that make them most likely to stay and perform.

Daniel Stein, PhD

People Data Scientist As a People Data Scientist at Searchlight, Dan combines subject matter expertise in organizational psychology with data science methods to uncover actionable people insights backed by science. Dan has a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from the University of California, Berkeley, and his research has been published in Harvard Business Review and Scientific American.

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