LinkedIn’s best-kept secret

Kiron Ravindran, associate dean of the Master in Management program, was wearing a gray suit and a loud necktie at the IE Alumni Forum. Almost like a television host, he introduced Steve Cadigan, a former vice-president of Talent Management at LinkedIn. Cadigan, armed with a remote control to project slides on a giant screen, was about to make his presentation about creating a culture of innovation. His first words were prophetic: «Are you ready for some action?»

With 30 years experience in the business of recognizing talent, his talk dealt with how to unblock and bring out all the hidden, unused value that a company has in its employees. After clarifying that he wasn’t going to talk about contracting new workers, or changing the office’s feng shui, he said it again: «People are value.»

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«There is no formula for unleashing innovation,» he told his audience, «because we’re all different and our businesses are different.» For this expert in human resources –in such diverse fields as insurance, sales, semiconductors, television and Internet– innovation requires enthusiasm and the ability to think in new ways. We shouldn’t control employees but influence them. «Freedom.»

As an example, he spoke of his experience at LinkedIn. They had no plan for innovation there, but they made one. With little time to think –«maybe Google or Facebook wanted to get into this line of business»– they had to hire «the best and sexiest brains in the world» for a plan that changed course several times. «Where you start and where you aim, maybe wouldn’t be where you end up.»

In an uncertain world, the typical five-year business plan is a «joke», and it’s much better to create an atmosphere where ideas are generated at ultrasonic speed, with a manager capable of cultivating that ecosystem. Cadigan says his best ideas occur to him when he’s driving. Testing, experimenting, creating. «Let’s try, let’s learn, let’s change.»

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The closest thing to a formula that Cadigan could offer his listeners was this: speak to your employees, meet with them every week, listen to their ideas and needs and complaints. Discuss with them each of your decisions, even about how long meetings should last. «Learn how to flow.»

At the time, he thought it was madness. Now he thinks it was brilliant… Perhaps because LinkedIn, in spite of all the problems and barriers, became a 25-billion-dollar business. Perhaps because at LinkedIn, when it was first listed on the stock market, each employee made five times as much money as those at Facebook. «People are value.»

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