Welcome to the Culture Club: Hiring for culture over skill

Many hiring managers believe the search process is a straightforward one. You address a set of key criteria that confirms candidates are well suited, weigh up the skill set and experience of each, meet a shortlist to assess chemistry and use a process of elimination to find the perfect candidate for the role. Right? Actually, no.

Finding the right leaders for your business is more than finding someone who can fulfill a technical spec. It’s about finding a leader who can become part of a businesses culture. Someone who echoes your company’s values and supports your vision and ethos.

The notion of hiring based on cultural fit isn’t a new one, but it has recently become a much higher priority for many businesses. Hiring managers are breaking away from the hard line, rigidity of traditional recruitment processes and are looking beyond skills and professional experience when it comes to finding the right person for a role. They are no longer skewing their decisions towards those based on trained skills and putting emphasis on finding a person who is a great cultural fit for the company.

There will always be roles that require specific skill sets, but presented with, for instance, a PhD qualified candidate with limited social skills, versus a Degree qualified candidate who is personable, flexible and fits well with the team and company’s values, the question becomes, ‘why should skill and experience be the foremost consideration?’

The short answer is, they shouldn’t. The downfalls of hiring solely based on professional experience and skill are many, and they have the potential to cause any business lasting turmoil. A leader who doesn’t mesh with the corporate culture of a business, despite the wealth of experience they bring, can quickly turn a positive environment to hostile and resentful, with consequences seeping through the entire organisation. While most situations can be, seemingly, fixed, the lasting effects can be damaging for some time.

In representing your corporate culture, it’s core to know and live by what you preach – the vision, core values, and practices of the business – and be able to display and articulate those messages. The entire search process must truly reflect what the business represents. It will quickly become clear if a candidate is on the same page as you by their engagement and enthusiasm.

Executives recognise the importance of hiring for cultural fit over professional experience alone. This evolution may be due to poor hiring decisions in the past, the benefits of diversity and by the positive impact on morale and productivity when employing culturally-aligned leaders. When an Executive and Leader are in sync, it’s a win-win situation. There’s typically greater job satisfaction for the individual, greater efficiency and a stronger rate of employee retention. All of which benefit the company too.

The benefits of hiring for cultural fit are clear, yet it’s still all too easy for Executives to take the familiar route of hiring based on skill, because cultural fit is a less familiar and blurry area. How do you know if someone is the right ‘fit’? What is ‘fit’ exactly? What do you base your judgments on? What questions can and can’t be asked? Identifying non-trainable attributes, true glimpses of personality and passion is hard to achieve, particularly in the brief time usually allocated for an interview.

So how do you do it?

First, don’t base your judgment of someone’s potential fit based on the obvious. Their social status, age, ethnicity, and so on should have no bearing on their suitability.

Second, be conscious of distinguishing between the person and the role. You’re not screening someone to be your friend. You’re assessing whether a resource will help achieve the objectives of your company or team. Keep perspective on what you like about a candidate at a personal level and be aware that your personal feelings must not be allowed to cloud whether the candidate aligns to the values you’re nurturing.

Third, step off the beaten track of familiar interview questions and explore a candidate’s views, hopes and dreams. As long as you keep it relevant to the open role and don’t ask inappropriate or prohibited questions, you’re entitled to ask questions to better understand the person in front of you. Pose questions based on real scenarios from your business and ask how a candidate might manage the situation.

Fourth, be open-minded about ways to assess cultural fit. We know a company in Silicon Valley that placed a piece of rubbish on the steps up to the interview location. Their company values included caring about the environment, being humble and taking responsibility. They took note of which executive candidates dropped to pick up the rubbish and which didn’t. While not a make or break factor in the interview process, it tells a little something more about a candidate’s personal drivers. For valued candidates, consider giving small homework projects or tests to see how they’d work in your environment.

Knowledge may be power, but culture and personality are fast becoming best practice in evolving a business structure that is satisfying, productive, and long lasting.

For more information on how Morgan Young can help you hire for cultural fit, contact us today.