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Richard Branson stole my blog post!

Company culture should celebrate diversity

I admit: ‘stole’ is perhaps not an accurate description. Earlier this year, I blogged about a subject close to my heart: what makes a great company culture. While planning my follow-on post, I was astounded to see that Richard Branson shared his thoughts on the exact topic I was planning (two weeks before mine)!

How do you preserve your carefully cultivated organisational culture through your hiring process?

A company culture has a lot to do with shared values – both professional and personal. The person you would hire for a company with a ‘work hard, play hard’ culture would be very different from the person you’d choose for a ‘family values’ type organisation.

If new employees hold the same views on your fundamental company values, then it’s likely they will feel familiarity and confidence with your organisation. Something akin to putting on a comfortable sneaker. (I’m not sure who I’m calling the sneaker!)

Preserving a culture is not about hiring people that fit a mould. Culture might be about shared values, but it should certainly allow for, even celebrate diversity in order to thrive. While maintaining your core values, you want different personalities, interests and traditions to spice up your melting pot. That’s what keeps culture alive and makes cross-functional teams work.

What we look for in prospective employees:

  • Happy people – over the years, we’ve learnt again and again to hire happy people. Of course, not everyone can be happy all the time, but aim to resource your business with people who are generally, and mostly, happy.
  • Personal interests – we look for people who have interests outside of work – hobbies, sports, entertainment – all of these elements are part of what makes people happy and helps them to manage work stress.
  • Sense of humour – knowing what makes someone laugh is such a brilliant window into their personality. Plus it brings out the real person in an interview. It’s hard to talk about what makes you laugh without showing your true personality.
  • Sound family and community values –respect for family and interest in the community is a good indication of how people are likely to interact with their colleagues.

The trick is to design your interview process to elicit information that talks to the presence or absence of the above. One of my techniques is to never ask a question that the interviewee might have practiced. That means none of the standard interview questions (where do you want to be in 5 years) and none that you might find in the multitude of ‘Top 10 interview questions to prepare for’ articles.

Of course, interviewing for culture fit is not an exact science and you will (and we have) made some spectacular mistakes. But your hit rate is bound to be higher if you define those exact elements that embody your culture, and make sure you keep working on your interview tactics to elicit the required insight. And it’s not only the answers that are pertinent; it’s the delivery, the body language, even the questions they ask you.

Another tactic I like to use – specifically in executive level hires once you have reached a short list – is to arrange a social meet-up with the candidate and their partner (if there is one). You can get great insight when you observe how someone interacts with the person closest to them, as well as the person serving them. If a candidate treats their partner or a waiter with disrespect, I terminate the interview!

What do you look for in a hire?

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