A Conversation About Hiring for Culture

After a great conversation with Scott Barstow on his podcast The Scott Barstow Show I thought it would be good to follow up to provide a narrative complement to our conversation.

Culture, and more specifically, how culture is created and managed has been an enduring interest of mine. What are the components of culture? How do we become part of a particular culture? How do we assimilate others into a culture? These are questions I’ve answered with some degree of success over the years as I studied Cultural Anthropology in college, the assessment of Organizational Culture in grad school, and the process of hiring for culture fit as a Professional Recruiter.

Scott and I explored the following questions related to hiring for culture fit in the context of Startups.

What is the difference between hiring for an early stage company vs. a mature company?

Hiring for culture is always important, but even more so in the early stages of building a company. One bad hire can kill your culture and negatively impact your existing team. As your company grows you’ll have a critical mass of culture that is harder to impact, but it is never impervious.

Aside from culture, you’ve got to be very intentional about the skill-sets you are hiring for. Focus on your product/service and the core business. Outsource your overhead functions – bookkeeping, payroll, marketing, creative, and recruiting. Anything that is outside your core team’s wheelhouse and a time suck should be left to specialists.

How do you ask questions in an interview to find out what you need to know?

Use open ended, behavioral based questions. A candidate’s first answer is not the final answer; keep peeling back the layers to get at the core of their initial answer. Keep asking why.

You aren’t just looking for their answers to the questions, but how they answer the questions. Do they follow directions? What can be read “between the lines” and from the patterns in their answers? Keep digging in to understand their answers – you can’t just take their answers at face value and move on. Some people interview really well or have had lots of practice.

How would you go about finding a co-founder if you were starting a business? How would you assess not only the job fit, but personality and culture?

Leverage your network. People that know you will have a better sense of who might be a good compliment to your capabilities and skills gaps. There are a variety of tools and assessments you can use to ensure a balance of personalities on your team. Understanding if you have shared values, vision, and mission are critical. What is their expectation for growing the company? Are you looking to exit quickly or build a lifestyle company that will provide a job and income stream for years to come? Working with the right recruiting partner can expedite the process so long as you put in the time to educate them on who you are, what you value, and your expectations for the company.

How does one find people who are probably looking for a job but not advertising it?

Use a recruiter. There is current research and polling data that says approximately 30% of the workforce is actively looking for a new job and over 55% are passively looking – that’s a lot of people. Recruiters have the networks, reach, and skill set to find, engage, and attract these active and passive candidates. This is what we do all day, every day at Kelaca.

What is a company’s culture vs. what it’s not, and how do you intentionally create it? And how is it created unintentionally through actions?

In the simplest terms, culture is “how things get done around here”. While the great office environments, stocked kitchens, nap rooms, and ping pong tables are all great amenities, they are just the icing on the cake of culture.

Culture is really about the shared vision and mission, the values the people exhibit, the processes you follow, the way people communicate – the things that really matter when it comes to getting the work done and keeping individuals and teams engaged.

How do you create it? This is where you have to be careful. If you try too hard, you will fail. You can’t force it. People often miss the point and define it as a future state, when it’s really the present state. You can shape your culture by hiring the right people that share the vision, mission, and values of the company; and who will perform at a high level given your processes and communication model. You have to be upfront about these things – the actual current state – when interviewing. Culture is an organic thing that evolves over time with the care and feeding you give it.

Why use a recruiter, and how should someone think about this decision when they’re cash strapped?

Because most people don’t know how to hire. They know how to build things. They know how to program. They don’t know how to interview and select talent. When it comes to the cash – think about how much time you will spend on this process. I can tell you, it takes an insane amount of time to search for candidates, engage them, interview them, and sell them on the opportunity. Most great talent is already at work somewhere. You’ve got to show them the grass is greener at your company. And those variables are different for everyone you talk to. You’ve got to figure out what drives people and use that information to attract them to your company.

It’s all about opportunity cost. How much is your time worth? What will you sacrifice in product development by not focusing your efforts there? Because that is what you are good at and why you started your company to begin with. How many customers will you miss out on securing because you are sorting through resumes? How far will you set your timelines back for entering your market? All these things have a huge cost to your business. I’d argue a much higher cost than the fee you will pay to a recruiter. Spend your time and money wisely. This is where many people mess it up – and it really impacts the business.

When should a company think about hiring a full time HR manager?

When you can’t manage the administrative tasks of managing the payroll, background checks, drug screens, onboarding, unemployment…the list goes on. It gets more complex once you start offering health insurance, investment plans, and other benefits. You can always outsource this work to a PEO (professional employer organization) or an HR firm. The question is: When does your cost to outsource equal the cost of hiring someone that can do it all?

The firing process – what’s the best way to fire?

Quickly. Hire slow, fire quick. You’ll never regret doing it this way. It will never cost as much. Rip off the Band-Aid quick. You’ll sleep better. Your team will thank you. Aside from performance issues you have to assess if the person is truly aligned with and bought in to your company values, vision, and mission. If they aren’t they will often self-select out and leave on their own; but if they don’t, make it quick.

Final Advice:

Engage partners that are expert at what they do so you can focus on what you do best. Get to know recruiters before you ever need them. Find out what type and size of firm is going to work well for you. Do you just want resumes? Or do you want fully vetted candidates that align with your culture and values in addition to the job requirements? If you want the latter, let’s talk.

At the time of this posting, Ben Wiant was a Senior Talent Advisor at Kelaca – a boutique talent acquisition and advisory firm dedicated to redefining the recruiting experience for candidates and clients. Ben has been studying the fundamentals of human culture and organizational culture for over 20 years and believes culture is a critical element to a group’s success.

A Conversation About Hiring for Culture
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