The cultural fit in recruitment – a startup syndrome
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I call it the startup syndrome in recruiting new talent. It’s nothing new. As a matter of fact, most startups are born with it, it’s a necessity when you’re short with money and resources. It’s been seen to happen even in bigger and more ”mature” organisations, and it can be seen especially with companies and business units operating in smaller town and villages.
So what is it? It’s often called the cultural fit, but in some cases it can also be seen as favoritism.
Cultural fit is especially important to startups, as they need to find like-minded individuals who are similarly motivated and flexible to work long hours with minimal salary, stretching the sensibility in working in an environment where you don’t really have the security of knowing whether the company has money to pay next month’s salary or not. Whether the first employees are paid with equity or salary, the people need to be the best cultural match possible, even in the expense of the best skills if necessary.
Of course You would be looking for the most talented person to start with, but in the very early stages the tasks and responsibilities vary, people need to have a wide range of skills, they need to be able to jump from one thing to the next without much notice, there are often no clear processes in place, nor is there HR to support the CEO. The company may need to change it’s focus, productline, supply chain, revenue logic, or any number of things in order to keep the flexibility to find the killer niche or product to make the big break. And when the shit hits the fan (whether positive or negative), there’s no room for someone who drops the gloves at 4PM or someone who wants to keep his/her holiday the first 3 weeks of June no matter what. There are situations where the team spirit and mutual commitment are trialed with fire. If you don’t fit in the team, all hell will break loose, and it could even kill the company.
So startups end up hiring the best person with suitable skills AND who fits in the team. If you’re a startupper with a mismatch in the team, buy that person out NOW or DIE a slow, painful death! Your choice.
Startups are born with the need to find the best cultural match, and thus they tend to hire people who have been involved in startups before. And as they hang around other startups, they tend to hire people they already know or know of, they hire friends, or friends of friends.
And when startups grow bigger, some of them will turn into corporations that start needing the middle management and the processes and structures, and slowly turn into more traditional organisations. And of course the need to be flexible with the hours, tasks, pay and whatnot slowly disappear, and the personnel begins to feel like employees rather than ”the core team” or ”the founding team”. And they suddenly don’t need to know everyone personally anymore, they don’t need to consider the cultural and team fit that much, but they start focusing more on the talent as such.
Some of them, that is, but recently I’ve noticed that a small number of the startups who are growing big have found new ways to make sure that the cultural fit remains even in times of fast growth. Some of these companies are quite special really, they have decided not to grow the headcount per se, but focus on finding the best cultural match in all the people that they hire, and the personnel – the actual teams needing the talent – have the last say in the hiring process. The team members get to speak their minds and they need to be happy with the person that is hired. And that sounds like a fair deal, after all they are the ones who will suffer the consequences the most severely and concretely.
The best want to work with the best. Often the most talented never come available in the open job market, but have offers on table as soon as they even hint about looking around for something a bit more challenging or interesting than the current job. These are the guys and girls who never need to apply, but they are also the picky ones – they want to work with people that they respect and look up to, people who are at least similarly skilled or better than themselves. They don’t run after the big bucks, but look for challenges, freedom and flexibility in an environment that they feel interesting and where they have a chance to work with similarly minded people.
So, in order for You to attract the most skilled individuals, you need to make your team and/or company attractive. Start by pimping their LinkedIn profiles!
Most of the more traditional companies tend to be afraid of loosing their most talented individuals, when actually they should be using them as the honey pot for even more skilled individuals. They should encourage these specialists to build brilliant LinkedIn profiles, to let and even encourage them to talk about their most successful projects, and let them talk about your clients, how they’ve been building these brilliant new services for some high profile client of yours. But no, most companies are afraid that these crown jewels are stolen, headhunted ruthlessly, and there’s no chance of replacing them. And yes, that could very well happen, but then there’s no one else but yourself to blame! If they are easily attracted elsewhere, you didn’t give them the freedom, the credit, the challenges and co-workers that they longed for. They didn’t feel good enough with you, and they would have left anyway sooner or later!
Especially organisations that want to build a specialist brand of themselves should carefully consider riding shamelessly on the reputation of their most skilled individuals. Encourage them to not just showcase their skills and specialism, but get them to discussion forums and user groups, developer networks and special interest groups. Give them the tools and advice to talk about the success stories. Use them to attract other brilliant individuals, ask them to ask their friends to get on board. Don’t hide your crown jewels, but consider them honey pots that attract the right kind.
Go get’em, tiger!