If the Shoe Fits: Culture is Numero Uno

If the Shoe Fits: Culture is Numero Uno

Post from: MAPpingCompanySuccess

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here


I don’t think the list of 17 Traits That Distinguish The Best Startup CEOs were in priority order, but if they are I disagree and think the first two are out of order.

The list reads,

  1. [Is] good at hiring AND firing.
  2. Builds a culture, not just a company.

It should read,

  1. Builds a culture, not just a company.
  2. Good at hiring AND firing, but rarely needs to.

Founders who go into the game with a conscious sense of their own values, create a culture based on those values and make sure to communicate it rarely find it necessary to fire anyone.

In other words, they use their culture to filter their hiring and are tough enough to walk away from candidates with good skills who aren’t culturally compatible.

But how do you know? How can you evaluate culture compatibility in the short time you interview?

I explained how to do it way back in 1999 when the following was published by MSDN and have republished it here every few years; I think it’s time again.

Don’t Hire Turkeys!
Use Your Culture as an Attraction, Screening and Retention Tool to Turkey-Proof Your Company.

Companies don’t create people—people create companies.

All companies have a culture composed of its core values and beliefs, essentially corporate MAP (mindset, attitude, philosophy™) and that culture is why people join the company and why they leave if it changes.

Generally, people don’t like bureaucracy, politics, backstabbing, etc., but when business stress goes up, or business heats up, cultural focus is often overwhelmed by other priorities.

In startups, it’s easier to hire people who are culturally compatible, because the founders first hire all their friends, and then their friend’s friends.

After that, when new positions have to be filled the only people available are strangers.

So how do you hire strangers and not lose your culture?

Since your culture is a product of your people, hire only people with matching or synergistic attitudes. The trick is to have a turkey sieve that will automatically screen out most of the misfits and excite the candidates who do have the right values and attitudes.

Here is how you do it.

  • Your sieve is an accurate description of your real culture.
  • It must be hard copy (write it out), fully publicized (everyone needs to know, understand, believe and talk about it), and, most important of all, it must be real.
  • Email it to every candidate before their interview and be sure that everyone talks about the culture during the interview and sells the company’s commitment to it.
  • Everybody interviewing needs to listen carefully to what the candidate is saying and not saying; don’t expect a candidate to openly admit to behaviors that don’t fit the company MAP, since she may be unaware of them, may assume that your culture is more talk than walk or consider it something that won’t apply to her.
  • Red flags must be followed up, not ignored because of skills or charm.
  • Consider the various environments in which she’s worked; find out if she agreed with how things were done, and, more importantly, how she would have done them if she had been in control.
  • Whether or not the candidate is a manager, you want to learn about her management MAP, approaches to managing, leadership and work function methods.
  • Probing people to understand what their responses, conscious as well as intuitive, are to a variety of situations reveals how they will act, react, and contribute to your company’s culture and its success.

Finally, it is up to the hiring manager to shield the candidate from external decision pressures, e.g., friends already employed by the company, headhunters, etc.

Above all, it is necessary to give all candidates a face-saving way to withdraw their candidacy and say no to the opportunity. If they don’t have a graceful way of exiting the interview process they may pursue, receive, and accept an offer, even though they know deep down it is not a good decision.

A bad match will do major damage to the company, people’s morale and the candidate, so a “no” is actually a good thing.

Remember, the goal is to keep your company culture consistent, flexible and true to your core values as you grow.

From the time you start this process, you need to consciously identify what you have, decide what you want it to be, publicize it, and use it as a sieve to be sure that everyone who joins, fits.

Use your cultural sieve uniformly at all levels all the time. If someone sneaks through, which is bound to happen occasionally, admit the error quickly and give her the opportunity to change, but if she persists then she has to go.

For more help, download the CheatSheets in the right-hand frame and/or give me a call at 360.335.8054.

No charge:)

Image credit: HikingArtist

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