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I don’t hire for culture and neither should you

The research is in.

Employees perform more effectively – and this is a highly correlated finding – when they have someone at work that they call a best friend. In fact, Gallup found that having a best friend at work meant more than just employee engagement, it was also highly correlated with:

  1. employee retention

  2. customer metrics

  3. productivity

  4. profitability

Don’t believe me? Here’s what they found.

“Gallup also observed that employees who report having a best friend at work were:

  1. 43% more likely to report having received praise or recognition for their work in the last seven days.

  2. 37% more likely to report that someone at work encourages their development.

  3. 35% more likely to report coworker commitment to quality.

  4. 28% more likely to report that in the last six months, someone at work has talked to them about their progress.

  5. 27% more likely to report that the mission of their company makes them feel their job is important.

  6. 27% more likely to report that their opinions seem to count at work.

  7. 21% more likely to report that at work, they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day.”

So you can easily understand why these findings drove tons of interview questions like these from

  1. What do you look for in terms of culture — structured or entrepreneurial?

  2. If you had to choose one, would you consider yourself a big-picture person or a detail-oriented person?

  3. What kind of personality do you work best with and why?

  4. What are your lifelong dreams?

  5. What do you ultimately want to become?

  6. What is your personal mission statement?

  7. What kind of car do you drive?

  8. There’s no right or wrong answer, but if you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?

  9. What’s the last book you read?

  10. What magazines do you subscribe to?

The logic goes like this.

  1. Hire people who might answer these questions similarly because they’ll be alike.

  2. People who are like each other will like each other.

  3. The result will be more profit.

And the result has been more than a decade of me listening to people talk about how they are looking for culture fits and struggling to find them.

What people mean when they talk about culture fit

Now, you may mean something different.

So let’s just start with an assumption here: I’m not using the phrase “hiring for culture fit” with a ton of nuance of your particular situation.

When I say that people are hiring for culture fit, I mean that when I hear the phrase most, and when I dig into the kind of culture fit people are looking for, what I find is rather simple.

People are looking to hire people like them. Or they’re looking to hire people like their best (or favorite) employee.

That’s what they mean by culture fit.

One way I’ve heard it said goes like this:

“If you wouldn’t want to come in and hang out with them on the weekend, they’re probably not a good culture fit.”

And that statement translates to me like this: If we can’t be buddies, we won’t likely work well together.

That kind of culture fit will not lead to greater profit

I haven’t lived in the Bay Area of San Francisco for five years now. I don’t know if it’s changed.

Things change quickly there. But what I remember from the bar scenes years ago was that if you walked into the right bar at the right time, you’d find a group of folks that looked like they’d all bought their clothes from the same exact catalog. In fact, these days you can sign up for a subscription service that will send you their clothes regardless of where you live.

Everyone looked the same. Dressed the same. And as a result, often they thought about things the same way.

And that isn’t the kind of thing that will translate into profits.

Because when everyone thinks about things in the same way, and sees things in the same way, the result is that you’ll often all have blind spots in exactly the same places.

And blind spots lead to poor decision making and customers who are unhappy.

Which results in a lowering of profits, not greater amounts of it.

When I hire people, I am looking for six things

Ownership – I want to know if the person I’m hiring knows how to pick up the ball, run with it, and not let it go. Not let it fumble at the first sign of pressure. This is something that can be demonstrated in the past, as a history of accountability and responsibility and in this case that past can be a predictor of their future.

Results Orientation – I want to know if the person understands how to get things done. I love process. But only if it serves the consistent delivery of results. After all, if a consistent process doesn’t deliver results, why would you want it?

Communication skills – Everyone says this. I get it. But it’s one of my six. And particularly, I’m looking for writing skills. If you can be articulate with your thoughts it says a lot to me about how you think and how you manage your thinking.

Growth Orientation – There are two kinds of people in my world. People who have 5 years of experience and people who have 1 year of experience five times in a row. The one I’m looking for is someone who is consistently and constantly challenging themselves to grow.

Flexibility – Whether we’re talking about flexibility of thought, like the ability to change their mind after presented with new information, or flexibility of role, like the ability to change assignments or projects – the ability to flex is particularly important in the world I live in where things are constantly changing. This is one of those cases where I can honestly be negative. I’m not looking for rigidity. Ever.

Perspective – To be clear, I’m not suggesting a particular perspective. Instead, I’m simply saying that I want people to have one. And the more varied, the more distinguished, the more unique the better. It goes to the heart of the “blind spot” challenge.

Notice what I’m not looking for. I don’t care if they like rugby and I don’t. I don’t care if they cuss a lot on twitter and I don’t. I don’t care if they go out partying every weekend and I don’t. Or if they love history podcasts and I don’t.

These won’t deliver friends to a team

The truth of having used this criteria for more than ten years now is that I can tell you for certain that it won’t create magical teams to begin with.

People are always the same. They like to find things in common. So magazines, podcasts, tv shows, and movies are easier to bond over. And this list won’t give you that.

It won’t magically find you a group of extroverts or high performing introverts.

But it will do one thing.

It will deliver a caliber of employee to a team that they will soon learn to respect. And from that respect comes trust. And from trust comes friendship. And if we’re lucky, best friends.

But that’s a fragile thing and isn’t easy.

Yet it’s sure better than hiring a bunch of people that walk and talk the same, become fast friends, and leave me vulnerable in the long run.

And that’s why I don’t hire for culture and don’t think you should either.

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