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Should I Hire Based on Skills or Culture Fit?

upset employee-282001-edited.jpegMany employers today would argue that you should (almost) always hire based on the candidate's cultural fit rather than their skills. However, many of them don't have a way to qualify and judge a candidate's culture fit and therefore are less likely to be successful long-term.

As I’ve listened to business owners or supervisors describe employee behavior (“She’s too critical of other employees,” “He doesn’t take input,”) that they’ve tried to improve for months or even years, what I've heard is the weariness in their voice.

As Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations, expresses: "Burnout happens, not because we're trying to solve problems, but because we've been trying to solve the same problem over and over and over." 

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The Business Owner Dilemma

Here’s what I heard from one business owner: “But he is such a great programmer. No one else knows how to do what he does.”

Here’s another one: “She is so loyal. She’s been with me for 10 years.”

And, of course: “But, our clients really love her.”

The Real Cost Shocker

When an employee doesn’t fit your culture, despite what other desirable skills they may have, many business owners estimate you bring down morale and productivity of those who work with that person by as much as 25%.

Also, it is you (vs. the actual employee) who brings down morale and productivity, because you as the business owner or supervisor are the one tolerating the behavior.

The Litmus Test

Here is the litmus test of how to know whether you should always hire based on culture vs. skills. Think about each employee at your firm. Would you rehire that person today?  If you say “no,” be honest. Chances are it’s because of culture fit, not skill fit.  

For too long, job descriptions and performance reviews have honed in on skills and experience, not culture fit. It’s time to change the emphasis of your job screening along with the accountability conversations in performance reviews. In fact, some firms (like Trumpet) include a culture review during our quarterly review session with team members.  

While a new hire must have certain required skills, the point is, choose great culture fit, knowing you’ll have some training to do, over a candidate with ideal skills and a subpar culture fit.

Think of it this way: If by letting go of an employee who is a poor culture fit, you could eliminate burnout, increase productivity by 10 to 25% of your team, and hear a rousing chorus of “thanks!” from your team, what’s that worth to you? 

Remember the business owner who complained about his star programmer? Three months later, he bit the bullet, told the programmer he didn’t want to lose him as a friend and helped him find a new position. Besides transitioning the work “that no one else could do” to the rest of the team before he left, the former programmer and the rest of the team couldn’t be happier.

So, leave this read with two commitments:

  1. For new hires, start figuring out how you will ensure you get the right culture fit
  2. For employees for whom you would not rehire, what’s an exit strategy?

Helping people enjoy the way they work by addressing a poor culture fit is one of the best ways to boost productivity and morale. That’s too good of an investment to pass up.

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Jo Day

Jo Day

Jo loves learning about interesting problems and how people are solving them. Jo is well known for connecting people and ideas and is a great catalyst (moo!) to change. Where some people see the world through rose colored glasses, Jo sees the world through processes. When Jo isn't hanging out with her family, Jo's favorite hobbies are being anywhere outdoors and coming up with new business ideas – just for fun!