Hiring To Fit 'Culture'?

It only seems natural to hire people who fit the organisation's culture. In fact, the most common excuse for executive failure is the inability to fit into the culture of an organisation. We all have our own stories about colleagues or bosses who were complete misfits and caused havoc.

However, a recent post on Linkedin presented the downsides of hiring for culture and that is this: That it breeds conformity. Seen from this perspective, hiring for culture is another 'corporate creep' that at least the Start-ups must avoid, as the objective of a start-up as an organisational form is to confront the status quo.

I have observed in my life with the start-ups that while many, most of them, want to change the world, they don't want to change themselves. While their motto is to upturn entrenched industries and introduce new ways of doing things, organisationally and structurally, many start-ups are derivatives of some defunct organisation of the past. This is human: We all tend to equate 'golden age' with the time when we were twenty, and it is not a surprise that the start-up founders often dig up the nostalgia in attending to unimportant things, like organisational culture and practises, while they direct their revolutionary fervour towards more important ones, like the Website design and sales commissions.

This somewhat explains why some Silicon Valley VCs wouldn't back older entrepreneurs, but this still is a problem for the industry I am focused on - Higher Education - as it is difficult to make meaningful innovation in Higher Ed without appropriate chalk-face experience. The cultural baggage is almost inevitable in an education start-up: That is perhaps why the hiring culture is of even greater importance. That, and nothing else, can help one escape the oxymoron of 'global' companies made out of just one kind of people, the caricature of innovation with the same-old culture.

But this still leaves the practical aspect of hiring 'culturally unfit' people. Isn't that too much of a disruption? However, clearly, no one is suggesting that one should hire disorderly people, just different people. And, hopefully, an organisation can differentiate between culture and values: You don't hire someone who is rude, but at the same time, who may be able to see customer service in a different light.

It makes abundant sense to me, as I have sought out people from different cultures to work with. I have founded three start-ups in the past, and in two cases, the Co-founders were from entirely different cultures. I knew them for several years before we started, and respected them, but they couldn't be more unlike me in their approach and thought. I saw that to be a great advantage. We disagreed a lot while working together, but with respect and understanding, could always resolve things and do things better than what we could have done by ourselves. And, indeed, one time - first time - I worked with people completely like me, things went wrong quickly and I left after six months into it.



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