Is Culture Overrated?

LinkedIn Pulse

By Joe Olson, Director, Technology Practice

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The words “culture” and “fit” seem to come up in just about every conversation that I have.  There’s a certain mythical element of “I’ll find it when I see it” that can make my job as an executive recruiter a bit challenging. One of the worst mistakes that can be made (for all parties) is the lack of culture definition which can create a nebulous search direction.  As a result, the process becomes reactive versus prescriptive.

There are clear examples where an individual is not the right fit for the organization; but, we’ve got to balance the “HR speak” with the reality of where they fell short.  Part of the advantage of creating a collaborative search process is that you are equipped to relay that message in a way that both protects the candidate, and also educates your consultant – allowing them to continually refine the lens.

Many of our clients have very clearly defined cultures – Airbnb, for example, has a very high standard for fit that is continually emphasized by their CEO, Brian Chesky.  When Brian first started Airbnb, it took them almost 6 months to hire their first engineer.  For years, he asked candidates “if you had one year on Earth, would you work for Airbnb?”  While I don’t recommend that level of acid test for everyone, I do believe that a company needs a succinct way to describe what they do and why they matter.

As I’ve referenced in an earlier post about motivation, the next wave coming into the workplace is drawn to having a broader impact (I’m a millennial so I’ll use that as a credibility base).  When we worked on the Airbnb CFO project, Brian’s mission was not “grow bigger” but create a platform that allows people to “belong anywhere.”  When he said that, I about jumped out of my seat – it is one thing to see a video and or a website describing how fun a company is, but it’s another to have that deliberately outlined and consistently supported by the CEO.

 

How do you relay culture?

I’m not sure there is a perfect answer to this question, but I think there are important things to factor in when I am doing my due diligence on a company.  (These are also very helpful for executives when interviewing)

  • Why is this role open?  Is someone being replaced because of inefficiency? Did they leave for a different (better?) role?  Was this person promoted within the organization leaving a void behind?
  • Who was the last executive let go from the organization and why did this happen?  This can be a bit of a loaded question, but I find that it leads to some really interesting conversation.  Were accountability metrics in place?  Was there open dialogue around both expectations and subsequent results?
  • Who is the brightest star in your *insert function here* and why? If they do not know, this is a very troubling sign.  You want to work with people who surround themselves with talented individuals – the recognition of ability in your organization is one of the most important traits of a good leader and a litmus test for a merit-based culture.

At the end of the day, culture is not beer taps and ping pong tables on every floor. Culture is a symptom of mission.  If you simply address the surface elements, you can completely miss a crumbling foundation.  Identify your mission and your culture will fall in line.

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First Published on: Linked In Pulse.

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