Whenever I talk about ‘hiring for culture fit,’ I get strange looks. I know people are wondering if hiring for culture is really a euphemism for ‘hiring people you’d like to have a beer with,’ or people you might have gone to school with – basically code for hiring people just like you. After all, isn’t this the behavior that perpetuates ‘bro culture’ in Silicon Valley?
On the contrary, this is actually a plea for companies to actively define their ‘culture’ through clearly communicated mission, vision, and values. Too often the term ‘company culture’ is misinterpreted as ping pong tables, kegs, and wearing jeans to work, when in fact, it’s a much deeper, and more powerful concept.
When you have a strong, clear, purpose-driven culture you’re better placed to recruit (well, just in general, but also) for diversity because you’ve already defined an objective ‘shared’ culture that everyone who works for you has understood and agreed to. This can help bridge individual cultures of origin in the workplace. This practice helps to normalize gender quality and diversity and inclusion for companies – the very opposite of perpetuating a ‘bro culture.’
Smaller companies, under intense pressure to make successful hires, may not feel like they can take a chance on someone that they’re not sure will be a team fit. This opens the door to an onslaught of unconscious biases. And yet, we know that workplace diversity encourages different perspectives that yield greater innovation and employee engagement, which in turn help grow stronger businesses.
Please allow a brief digression to make this point more clearly – bear with me, I promise I’m going somewhere with this:
There are some people who are merely fans of the 1990s Aaron Sorkin political drama ‘The West Wing,’ and then there are people who love the show so much that they, even now, in 2017, listen to a podcast called ‘The West Wing Weekly’ in which each and every episode of the seven seasons is dissected in painstaking detail. I, myself, fall into this latter camp.
Very often on the podcast, there are guest interviews themed to the show’s story lines. Recently, on a Canadian-focused episode, the hosts interviewed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. For a variety of reasons that will be obvious to any West Wing fan, this was an exciting turn of events. But what was even more exciting to me was something Justin Trudeau said about Canadian culture that makes my point about how to start creating a diverse and inclusive company culture.
West Wing Weekly host, Hrishikesh Hirway, asked the Prime Minister about Canada’s stance on refugees, and whether assimilation was a big part of their policies in this area. The Prime Minister articulated what it means to welcome immigrants to their country.
“Canada was always stuck…and that sort of helped us live in a place that is too cold, too big, too empty for too many months of the year. We learned that surface identity doesn’t define you, and through the waves of immigration… people are proud to keep their heritage, and we celebrate them. Being of every different background makes it difficult to point out what a typical Canadian is.
I mean, just the French versus English meant that we had to accept that someone totally different from us was just as much Canadian. So we went through long stretches of angst of being unable to define what the ‘Canadian Identity’ was, until we sort of figured out that the Canadian Identity is just not shaped around surface attributes like religion or ethnicity or language, it’s shaped around the shared values – shared core values of openness, respect, compassion, a willingness to work hard, a desire to be there for each other, a search for justice, for opportunity.
These kinds of things that most Western countries sort of aspire to, Canadians tend to take as definitional... And what that does is that that means that wherever you’re from, whatever your background, if you come and accept those values, which are positive, inclusive, open values, you get to be Canadian.”
Without dwelling on the nuances of Canadian politics, I do think that Justin Trudeau’s sentiment effectively articulates my point; shared values essentially form a social contract that bind people together, certainly well enough to create a strong, thriving company of diverse talents and perspectives.
When you recruit for a values-driven culture fit, you are saying, ‘this is who we are, this is what we stand for. This is what we celebrate, this is the behavior we expect, and this is what we won’t tolerate. This is what we’re offering you, this is what we need from you. This is how we treat each other, and this is how we engage with our customers. This is why we come to work every day, this is why we keep at it, even when the going gets tough.’
Naturally, there will still be issues around how we effectively manage diversity in our businesses, but I have seen, throughout my career, that creating a strong shared culture yields significant benefits, and expanded access to top talent is just one of them.