Whether you're juggling the cost-benefit challenges of employee retention, recruiting talent in a competitive field, or scaling a business that's poised for major growth, the roadmap to a happy and diverse organizational culture is something that leaders are increasingly trying to navigate. So it's no surprise that a quick online search reveals hundreds of essays, videos and book results on the subject.

The idea of culture fit in recruiting, however, has come under fire a bit lately. A recent article proclaimed "The End of Culture Fit", describing the risks of groupthink and an end to diversity when people's soft skills, personalities or backgrounds are considered. The author has some valid concerns, but in my view, the death of culture fit is greatly exaggerated.

I'm a strong advocate for taking the culture of a company into account during the hiring process. Some experts call this recruiting for 'culture fit'. Others describe a 'culture add' gauge, or 'values fit'. Whatever term is trending, it's a key step in how we identify promising talent for G Adventures, and predict how successful someone will likely be within our purpose-led business.

The process we've created is the 'G Factor' interview. After a candidate's core competencies and references have been approved by a hiring manager, three random employees chat with the person about hypothetical and good-humored scenarios to assess different aspects of their personality, like their attitude, resilience and willingness to not take themselves too seriously. The idea is to help everyone relax and share a few quirks of who they are as individuals, while giving candidates a peek into the personalities and core values of our company's culture. If a candidate's answers raise a red flag, a job offer is unlikely to follow, and we've hopefully saved both parties a time-consuming mistake.

One of the main benefits of culture fit interviews in my business is that we often manage to filter out what I sometimes call: "brilliant jerks," those people with very strong resumes and competencies but who just aren't good to work with. They might be difficult or petty, or carry a "lone warrior" mentality, in which they see themselves alone as great; the people around them, not so much.

Look at Uber, trying to reform its culture as it searches for a new Chief Operating Officer. What did Uber board member Arianna Huffington say they most need to screen out? "Brilliant jerks."

I don't have any special insight into Uber's inner workings, but as an observer, it seems like the company's problem could be in large part its culture. It has achieved impressive success in becoming a disruptive, multi-billion-dollar, global brand, but it also is developing a reputation for nasty behavior such as sexism in the workplace. I can't say for sure, but from my perspective, Uber may have too many brilliant jerks.

At a company where the culture is toxic - whether that means it's full of people who don't trust or respect each other, or where there's bullying, elitism and even harassment - hiring for people who fit the existing culture isn't going to solve your problem. It's going to make it worse.

But plant the seeds for a diverse, connected, mutual admiration society by leading with your values and purpose, and then let your people shape it from the ground up. Recruiting for a complement to that culture will make your team and business stronger.

It's important to understand what culture fit is - and isn't. To me, it's assessing whether someone sees their talents and contributions as part of a larger whole, working toward a shared purpose; or whether they tend to see themselves as apathetic, disengaged, or better-than-everyone lone wolves. If I have two candidates and one has more experience, but the other seems like a better culture fit, I'll take the latter every day of the week.

Some people have cautioned me that it's dangerous for companies to hire for culture, because you increase the odds that you'll end up with a group of people who all think or look the same.

To them I explain that our culture fit interviews aren't meant to determine whether someone is politically conservative or liberal, youthful or seasoned, polished or quirky. What we look for is whether the candidate has the mindset to perform well in a team.

How do they approach collaboration? Do they have a sense of humor? Do they have the ability to adapt to change? Do they have a positive mindset? And could they genuinely share our core values and sense of larger purpose? It's a two-way street. Allowing candidates to get an informal peek into the quirks, personalities and values of our business gives them useful data to make an informed decision, too.

There will always be tensions and debates, some of them heated, in even the most healthy of corporate cultures. And yet, in my company, we manage the conflicts that arise more easily because we search for like-minded (and like-valued) people in the recruiting process. Doing so increases the odds that you can resolve disagreements more easily, because employees see themselves as part of something bigger than themselves.

That said, unconscious bias is certainly something that every business leader and recruiter should guard against. It can be overcome by making sure that you already are bringing together a group of people from all kinds of different demographic, psychographic and geographic backgrounds.

Wherever the debate over culture nets out, it's my firm belief that a collective commitment to a company's culture and values will make you better able to function and thrive as a business. Ignoring culture in the hiring process is what allows brilliant jerks to slip in.

Published on: Apr 13, 2017
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