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Don’t hire for culture fit. Consider these 3 factors instead

The founder and CEO of Mediafly says that instead of relying on a gut feeling, which is how some employers define “culture fit,” he searches for three specific characteristics during the interview process.

Don’t hire for culture fit. Consider these 3 factors instead
[Photo: Markus Winkler/Unsplash]

Ninety-four percent of executives and 88% of employees believe a distinct workplace culture is important to business success, according to a Deloitte study.

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When it comes to creating a company culture, many people immediately think of office perks. Does my office host fun events? Do we have a ping-pong table or keg in the kitchen? But the foundation of building a company culture has nothing to do with the perks. Rather, it all boils down to the people.

When I started my career, I learned very quickly that surrounding yourself with great people is the key to growth. Instead of relying on a gut feeling, which is how some employers define “culture fit,” I search for three specific characteristics during the interview process.

Lack of ego

I look for someone who will fiercely defend their ideas, but not their ego. Falling on your sword because it was the right idea, rather than your idea, is the key difference. Alternatively, an ideal candidate is not a wallflower; they must be willing to challenge ideas and thoughts. Lack of ego allows team members to act with autonomy and a broad understanding of the business needs.

Patience is crucial in this process. There is a Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second-best is today.” I think of this when hiring and start the process six to 12 months from when we actually need to fill the position. As a result, we are always looking for people, even if we know we can’t hire them right now. This mentality is a key driver in our strong culture because I have a very deliberate hiring process. While the process is tedious, it provides time to identify if a potential candidate is a stunning talent and culture fit for our entire team. My philosophy is that it’s better to miss out on a qualified candidate than hire an individual who is not a talent or culture fit.

Good listener

The ability to listen is a quality that is often overlooked. While many of us think we’re good listeners, we’re actually not. Research shows only 10% of us listen effectively. Keep in mind there is a difference between hearing and listening. Merriam-Webster defines hearing as the “process, function, or power of perceiving sound.” Listening means to “pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention, and to give consideration.”

We are constantly distracted by technology and things happening in our personal lives that taking a moment to thoughtfully pay attention is easier said than done. Fortunately, it’s a skill we can continue to improve. To me, listening is extremely important because it builds respect and trust among employees, providing a space for them to freely share ideas. Additionally, one’s ability to listen provides a base for feedback and growth.

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Listening helps in times of conflict. While a great company culture reduces conflict, there’s no way to entirely eliminate it. However, having a good listener in the workplace allows room for empathy and understanding, improves the workplace environment and customer relationships, and therefore improves the company.

Comfortable with ambiguity

As a startup founder and leader, I can tell you one thing is certain: change is constant. Yes, there are processes in place, but often, situations arise that are the first of their kind for me and my team. In this case, I look for people who feel comfortable not having every single step figured out.

In 2018, my team handled our first acquisition. For some, not having a step-by-step plan of the entire process may have seemed stressful and confusing. For our team, it was an opportunity to learn, grow, understand best practices, and how we can leverage those in upcoming acquisitions. Being comfortable with situations like this is a must for success.

This goes hand in hand with having a self-starter mentality. When everyone learns together, there is no right or wrong. That opens the door for employees to take risks and ties in nicely with the other characteristics. Lack of ego allows employees to actively listen to each other’s opinions and ideas, and in turn, provides employees with a space that is free of judgment, open to innovation, and ultimately, drives success.

Finding the right mix of skills, knowledge, experience, and personality takes time. However, the role people play in a company’s success cannot be overstated. Former Google CEO and cofounder Larry Page approved or rejected every one of the company’s hires. Rather than relying on gut feeling to determine culture fit, take the time to understand what characteristics you want to see in each employee. While this may extend the hiring process, it will be worth it in the long run to have the right people in the right position at the right time.


Carson Conant is the CEO and founder of Chicago-based sales enablement solution provider Mediafly.

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