What does hiring for cultural fit really mean?

When I first started life as a recruitment consultant my manager and mentor at the time told me that there are only three things that are important in the hiring process:

1. personality

2. personality

3. personality

This advice is so simple and so true. In professional sales there is no bigger truth than people buy people, and in recruiting this is even more so. 

When matching someone to a job vacancy the skills required are a matter of fact – a potential hire can either do the job or they can’t – so, after that box is ticked, you must decide whether that person will fit with the other people in the business, and the business’s core values. This decision is subjective. But get it right and you are onto something very special.

How do you know? 

To understand how to get this right you not only need to understand the core values of the business, but also the personalities and behavioural traits of the people in the team your potential employee will be working with. Then, you must be able to assess these.

In his book ‘Zero to One’, Peter Theil (of Paypal fame) takes this concept to a extreme but highly logical conclusion – PayPal hired only people who fitted the cultural values of the business – and this meant if they liked Star Wars they were in, and if they liked Star Trek, they were out. You see, if they liked Star Trek then they just weren’t PayPal’s kind of people. 

And before you laugh, they sold PayPal to eBay for $1.5b!

Another great example of this working in practice is the US business Zappos. Founded by the now legendary Tony Hsieh, Zappos are well known for their amazing customer service and use a very similar philosophy in their hiring process. At Zappos, interviews are separated into two parts: a skills interview, and a cultural interview. A candidate must pass both to continue to a job offer. They have identified 10 core values that are non-negotiable and if during the interviews anything flags up a potential issue, the process is terminated there and then.

Zappos sold to Amazon for $1.2b. 

What are your core values?

Businesses who understand their business and cultural core values, and are able to enunciate these clearly and concisely, are also able to hire against them. The result is a more effective hiring process, a better team fit, and ultimately a stronger and better long term business. 

Why is it then that so many companies I meet (and sadly a lot of recruitment businesses who should know better) don’t have their values nailed. They talk about the culture and how they want it, but they can’t clearly define it. And if they can’t explain it to me, then they certainly can’t explain it to a potential employee, let alone hire against it.

If you don’t understand your businesses values, or haven’t taken time to define them, then it really is time to get your senior management team together and thrash them out. Get off site, have some fun, work together and come away with possibly the most important output you will have ever produced.

Or don’t. But please don’t blame me when you are always replacing miss-hires! 

You can email me at james@jamesnathan.com,or call me on 07736 831151. Follow me on Twitter at @jamesnathan, connect to me on LinkedIn, or follow me on Facebook.

I look forward to speaking soon.

Views: 765

Comment by Daniel Fogel on July 15, 2015 at 7:40pm

James - Great post.  I hear a lot of talk about interviewing leaders at the same company who have very different ideas of what the company values should be.  I think to be effective leaders are going to have to be on the same page before rolling out the idea of what the company culture is.   Employees and candidates can tell when the described culture does not match the culture on the ground in the office.  Members- do you think we should be seeing culture driven more from the bottom up or from the top down?

Comment by james nathan on July 16, 2015 at 10:24am

Hi Daniel, interesting debate 

Comment by Daniel Fogel on July 16, 2015 at 11:04am

James - I agree.  We were having a bit of that debate at the #TruSF event the other day.  It was interesting.  Founding leaders of a company tended to bring a culture based around their personality to the company, but once the company reaches a certain size, you can see a disconnect given the distance between the leaders and the employees on the ground.  Large firms can find themselves with a culture they think they have based on the EVP, values, etc but the workers may be experiencing a completely different culture in reality.  The workers' culture is more than likely the one people on reviewing on sites like Glassdoor.


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