The importance of skill stacking to find the right employees

The importance of skill stacking to find the right employees

We asked an employer and his newest employee to write about their experiences finding talent/finding a job, and what they think the approach should be for the future of work. Here's the boss's side of the story...

As the Founding Director of social business AgImpact, I’m an employer with passion, a commitment to shared value, and a great idea. I want to do good in the world by supporting the implementation of high quality, game-changing research for development projects in developing countries –  and also make some dollars along the way.

To achieve this, I need a team comprised of people like me and, even more importantly, people who aren’t like me. So how do I build a stable, cohesive team, capable of achieving AgImpact’s longer-term goals, while navigating a vastly fluid new work order?

#1. Seek the ‘stacker’

Our business is niche and diverse. We work primarily in developing countries and the organisations we support include large NGOs, multinational Fortune 500 companies, universities and government agencies. We offer a stack of services, that include implementing and building capacity in digital data collection for research. We manage agricultural research projects and strategically tell stories (film, written, photography) to broaden impact. It’s a tricky space to explain, so we need sophisticated staff members who can engage with complexity, sit comfortably with uncertainty, and do multiple things often at the same time.

Enter the stacker.

I look for diversely skilled people with rich, non-conforming backgrounds, who exhibit the qualities of early-stage entrepreneurs: with the enthusiasm and drive to effect real change in a high-functioning team. I seek question-askers who are also capable of recognising when it’s time to stop asking and start doing – those who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty both intellectually and physically. These sorts of people are value creators who aren’t limited by a job title or description (almost everyone at AgImpact has a dual role).Importantly, the stacker has a higher order qualities that can never be automated.

#2. Embrace the digital diaspora

The job for life is dead, but the digital nomad is alive and kicking across multiple digital platforms. As an employer, I’ve learned to acknowledge that the best people for my business don’t necessarily reside in the same metropolis as me. Consequently, AgImpact staff – 75% of whom are women – are spread across the world in Phnom Penh, Bali, Bangkok, the Gold Coast and Sydney.

Technology makes our combined efforts possible, of course. But as always, it’s not about the medium – these technological platforms are simply enablers for our highly-skilled stackers behind the screens or in the field.

Despite the diversity of their individual backgrounds, our team is united by a common purpose – we care about what we do and the people we work with; we do our best always and love solving problems; we learn from our mistakes and celebrate our successes; and we want our work to matter (not just to us).

#3. Invest in quality facetime

Our flexible and fluid, digitally-empowered team still needs to see each other once in a while. There’s huge value in getting together at least once a year for some quality facetime, to reflect on what’s working (or not working), our aspirations and concerns, as well as our future strategy.

Recognising that our staff members invest a lot of time and energy into AgImpact, we reciprocate by investing in them –  holding a week-long strategic planning retreat each year to strengthen our ties, set clear goals and have some unique team experiences. Our reflection retreat this year is taking place in Bali, where staff members can strategise before relaxing, or the other way around.

Ultimately, it’s all about the team. Finding the right people can take up to a year – and we never engage recruiters or use the big employment search engines. The right people are usually referred to us by individuals within our broader network who are usually stackers themselves, working for a greater good.  

For the right people, we work hard to retain them. Like any good relationship, it’s all about creating shared value based on mutual respect and a common purpose. And I believe that offering flexible, fluid, and meaningful opportunities to the right people – the kind of work that leverages their unique valencies, born of their particular experience skill stack – delivers better business outcomes and represents the way of the future in the new work order.

Find out what Stuart’s newest employee thinks about the skill stack approach to recruitment. 

Stuart Higgins is Founding Director at AgImpact and is based in Sydney (for now). His own personal ‘stack’ includes experience as a farmer, radio producer, researcher and board member.