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Why culture fit shouldn’t be a primary hiring goal

9th Aug 2018
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A great, confident team is one in which people can be challenged.

This is particularly true of teams that actively encourage challenge, in order to nudge people out of their comfort zones and spur them to glean insights from different perspectives of the world.

People who join you in your comfort zone in order to achieve some sort of cultural fit are highly unlikely to challenge you. And they may not be terribly keen to be challenged themselves, if their primary focus is to fit in.

During recruitment phases – and indeed long after that, in project discussions – leaders are often eager to avoid what are commonly known as ‘personality clashes’.

I’m not particularly fond of that term – more often than not, outbreaks of friction are about power, rather than personality.

But however uncomfortable those clashes may be, they do yield a vital by-product: creative tension. And that’s one of the main precursors to innovation.

Quirky genius

Those themes came up in a recent Business Insider piece about US digital entrepreneur Owen Grover, who learned how to lead from MTV founder Bob Pittman.

Grover says: “Bob told me to always accept people with towering weaknesses as long as they are accompanied with towering strengths. These are people who are so quirky that their genius is often completely missed.”

He added: “It’s easy to want everyone to get along, or to hire people that are easy to manage. But doing so is how you get Bs hiring Cs hiring Ds.”

Pittman’s advice chimes with the views of former Netflix talent chief Patty McCord, who wrote in the Harvard Business Review: “What most people really mean when they say someone is a good fit culturally is that he or she is someone they’d like to have a beer with.

“But people with all sorts of personalities can be great at the job you need done.”

Screening ideas

Familiarity has its drawbacks. One of the biggest is that if you get what someone is saying in a very instantaneous fashion, because the pair of you have some kind of shorthand, then that person often won’t need to fully articulate their ideas.

One undesirable result of that may be that those ideas – and your quick acceptance of them – may not receive reasonable scrutiny.

However, if you don’t immediately understand what the person opposite you is saying, it will require a better, deeper, more detailed explanation. And that, I think, is a positive step all by itself.

Those moments of discomfort are really helpful for encouraging you to sense-check the information or ideas you’re receiving from your staff, challenge yourself and reassess your own decision making.

Of course, we should want work to be fun. It’s important to enjoy our collaborations with colleagues. But even in teams with tangible elements of clash and disconnect, when they start to succeed, you tend to notice that the individual members begin to like each other.

Nothing builds a team like success, because the individuals concerned move to a new phase of accepting – and valuing – difference.

And that, in turn, releases waves of trust and confidence.

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