Bob Sutton wrote bravely about the No Asshole Rule, and how talent should never excuse destructive behavior. It’s a rule many companies are afraid to follow and they pay later. By the time leaders realize there’s something broken in the culture, it’s hard to fix. Avoiding assholes is certainly progress for some companies, but but that’s not enough to create a great place to work.
One of the amazing things about my experience at WordPress.com, and a theme in my next book, was the common good habits everyone had: generosity, thoughtfulness and craftsmanship. Matt Mullenweg and Toni Schnieder, the leaders at WordPress.com, put the culture and its values ahead of many considerations. Great cultures have a higher bar and to both start and grow good ones requires sacrifices many impatient CEOs aren’t willing to make.
Jason Cohen, founder of WPEngine wrote this recently:
You can train someone how DNS works, but you can’t train someone to naturally have empathy for a customer. You can train someone with specific ways to interact with an irate customer, but you can’t train someone to genuinely care about helping that irate customer. At some point along the way, we’ll make a mistake, and it’s our responsibility to handle it with humility…You can train skills, but you can’t train attitude, and the attitude is going to make the real difference in that situation.
…If you can’t train attitude, then you have to hire for attitude.
Hiring for culture is harder than hiring for skill. To hire for culture you first have to understand the culture you have, which is difficult since you’ve always been in it and likely don’t see it for what it is. What you think your culture is and what it really is might be very different. And even if you’re clear on your culture’s values, you have to be willing to say no to talented candidates for reasons beyond talent. And perhaps hardest of all, you have to find ways during an interview to assess a candidate’s values, which is much harder than assessing their talents.
A common shortcut is evaluating candidates based on the question “Is this someone I’d want to work with everyday?” That question is packed with many implicit values the culture you work in already contains. However following that too closely has problems too. It can lead to stagnation, or even discrimination. Organizations need people with different attitudes to stimulate growth. No matter how healthy a culture is eventually there are powerful defenders of the status quo. It takes a new coworker with fresh perspective to show how stagnant you’ve become. Part of what keeps all cultures healthy is the introduction of new people, ideas and assumptions. As companies grow keeping the right balance is hard to do. You need to protect what you have, but continue to plant new kinds of seeds.
How do you hire for culture?