Hiring for Culture Fit or Core Values?

Hiring to culture or core values

Culture fit, or culture match have been terms used widely in hiring processes across the globe over the past few years.

“We have a great culture, it’s important we find a good match,” or “we need to find someone who fits in with our culture, not just someone who ticks all the skills/experience boxes.”

But what does that mean? What culture are you matching people against and is that the right yardstick to use?

The simplest definition of culture is that it is “a people’s ‘way of life’, meaning the way groups do things”. So, for example, “we all go the pub at 4pm on a Friday,” or “we’re a hard working, hard playing organisation,” or even “we provide free cereal in the morning”.

Are these the guiding principles you want to hire against? How does a non-drinker fit with the first? Or, a family orientated person with the second? Does the third create a culture of entitlement?

Also, in hiring to culture, does that mean the culture of the company overall, or the culture within a specific team (which may not be aligned with the company)? Further, is it what we think the culture should be or what it actually is?

When you start to ask these questions, perhaps you realise that hiring to culture isn’t the best, or right, way to hire people. It certainly doesn’t propagate diversity, either within the company or across society as a whole.

And diversity is a good thing, particularly related to business performance. McKinsey studies have shown that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial performance above their respective national industry medians. The same studies show that gender diversity alone produce a 15% likelihood of improved financial performance.

So what is a better ‘corporate yardstick’ to hire against? Fortunately, Jim Collins has done that work for us in his book, “Built To Last: Successful Habits Of Visionary Companies, Collins and Porras”. Jim’s research showed that “visionary companies” outperformed the stock market at a rate of 15x and that these visionary companies all operated under a core ideology.

The core ideology was defined as a core purpose and a core set of values:

Purpose: a fundamental reason for existence beyond just making money.

Core Values: essential and enduring tenets – a small set of general guiding principles, not to be confused with business practices and strategies.

By way of example, take Infusionsoft (a company I once worked for, now re-branded as Keap) whose core purpose is to help small businesses succeed and whose core values include such enduring tenets as:

  • we practice open and honest communication
  • we check our egos at the door
  • we do what we say we’ll do

There are 10 core values in total, each one written large on the office wall. Day to day business is conducted using these core values as guiding principles.

If a company’s core purpose is clearly understood and stated then hiring to that core purpose should be relatively straight forward (and easy to gauge from both sides). But what about the core values? Here’s what Jim Collins said:

“You cannot “install” new core values into people. Executives often ask me, “How do we get people to share our core values?” You don’t. Instead, the task is to find [the right] people who are already predisposed to sharing your core values.”

Do you know your core purpose and core values?

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