📺 Stream EntrepreneurTV for Free 📺

1 Unique Trait That Will Define Your Next Linchpin Employee Hint: This unique trait is not emotional intelligence (though that's a good thing, too).

By Heather R. Huhman Edited by Dan Bova

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Eye Candy Images | Getty Images

For years, startups have focused on being agile organizations. Now entrepreneurs are seeing the benefit of agile employees. These people can adapt and pivot, making them valuable in multiple roles.

Related: Commitment to Innovation Is How Legacy Companies Stay Agile

But not everyone has this ability. Luckily, there are ways to identify the trait in potential employees -- and develop it in current ones. The trick is understanding what makes an agile mind unique.

Look for a diverse work background.

Most leaders read a resume that lists many different types of positions and view the job seeker as flighty. But this isn't necessarily true.

Truly agile minds have a sense of curiosity that often takes them down unconventional career paths. Along the way, they gain an arsenal of skills and problem-solving abilities.

This is why Rob Reif, president of the Stamford, Conn.-based media planning and buying company MNI Targeted Media, recommends seeking out candidates with unique resumes.

When he was looking to hire a new vice president of marketing, Reif told me, he needed someone who could transition the department into the digital era. After seeing the resume of a woman who had worked at Fortune 500 and private equity companies, in addition to holding roles on both the client and agency sides of marketing, Reif knew he'd found the agile-minded candidate he needed.

Related: 7 Reasons Why Startups Need to Embrace Agile Marketing

"Change is the only constant," Reif said by email. "If your employees can't pivot quickly to meet the market demand, you're at a competitive disadvantage. Game over."

Find this talent for your own company's next opening by getting creative with applicant-tracking systems. Instead of searching for obvious skills or phrases, branch out. For example, when seeking a customer service employee, look for other previous positions that have overlap. Sales, human resources and marketing experiences can all provide useful skills in customer service.

"Tell me about . . ."

Agile mindedness is all about adaptability. This is why Scott Mautz, the CEO of the Cincinnati-based online training company Profound Performance, always asks the same interview question when looking for agile employees: "Tell me about a project that forced you to change course midstream."

Candidates' answers can show how they handle adversity and correct course. Also, pay attention to job seekers' tone when they respond. Agile-minded people will get excited talking about these situations.

Prompt them for as much detail as possible. It's not uncommon for people to over-exaggerate their role in a difficult situation. Asking for specifics will show you how much of the candidate's skill and thought process went into the success of the project.

Teach preparation step by step.

Once an individual with an agile mind has been hired, it's time to foster that employee's skills.

Stephanie Trunzo, the chief digital officer and chief operations officer of Raleigh, N.C.-based digital strategy company PointSource, a Globant company, suggests adjusting how those employees plan.

Traditional wisdom says that "Fortune favors the prepared." But that isn't the case when you're ocusing on agility.

"If you try to be too predictive, you will be disappointed when things don't go the way you plan them. The only constant is uncertainty," Trunzo said via email. "But if you don't look forward at all, you will miss opportunities that appear in the moment."

Instead, train your agile-minded employees to think one step ahead. Set up simulation projects to give them the opportunity to practice. Encourage them to think of all the options available for their next move.

For instance, have them role-play the leadership of a project. Ask what they'd do if a team member didn't hit a deadline. Have them talk through all the options; then help them evaluate the best choice.

Manage by objective.

Micromanaging kills an agile mind. When Mautz, of the online training company, was trying to help an employee become more agile, he found managing by objective the best route. "If you want an employee to flex and adapt, agree to the objective and let them find their way there," Mautz said in an email.

So, make sure all objectives are clear. While an agile employee can decide how to reach a goal, the goal itself shouldn't be up for interpretation. Before the project begins, have the employee repeat the goal in his or her own words. This will show if the employee has a true understanding of the issues.

Then, once the project is complete, sit down with the employee and discuss his or her success. Have the employee explain all the decisions that were made. Objectively let the employee know whether those decisions helped achieve the goal.

Related: Thinking of a Career Pivot? Here's How to Be Ready to Change Direction.

Providing this kind of hindsight analysis will help the employee better adapt in the future.

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies. She writes about issues impacting the modern workplace.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Side Hustle

These Coworkers-Turned-Friends Started a Side Hustle on Amazon — Now It's a 'Full Hustle' Earning Over $20 Million a Year: 'Jump in With Both Feet'

Achal Patel and Russell Gong met at a large consulting firm and "bonded over a shared vision to create a mission-led company."

Business News

These Are the 10 Most Profitable Cities for Airbnb Hosts, According to a New Report

Here's where Airbnb property owners and hosts are making the most money.

Side Hustle

How to Turn Your Hobby Into a Successful Business

A hobby, interest or charity project can turn into a money-making business if you know the right steps to take.


Want to Be More Productive? Here's How Google Executives Structure Their Schedules

These five tactics from inside Google will help you focus and protect your time.

Starting a Business

This Couple Turned Their Startup Into a $150 Million Food Delivery Company. Here's What They Did Early On to Make It Happen.

Selling only online to your customers has many perks. But the founders of Little Spoon want you to know four things if you want to see accelerated growth.