In executive recruiting, culture is key

When a candidate who looks perfect on paper doesn’t end up working out, executives are often left scratching their heads, especially when they didn’t enlist the help of executive search and recruitment professionals during their search. If someone doesn’t work out despite having a strong background, relevant experience and a good measure of successes and failures under his or her belt, it can be hard to determine what went wrong, but firms that hire based on those qualities alone are overlooking a major piece of the hiring puzzle – cultural fit.

In a piece for LinkedIn, HubSpot founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah introduced the idea of “culture debt,” a phenomenon that can hold back not only an ill-fitting employee but his or her entire team, division and even the company as a whole.

“Culture debt happens when a business takes a shortcut and hires an employee with, say, the ‘right’ skills or experience… but who doesn’t fit the culture,” Shah wrote. “Just one bad hire can create a wave of negativity that washes over every other employee.”

Shah outlined several hiring missteps that could result in companies accruing culture debt, including some recruiters’ propensity to “see the ivy and miss the poison,” for instance by focusing on a candidate’s strong skill set, impressive resume or other positive attributes while skating over red flags like a shaky work ethic or interpersonal challenges.

Exploration, execution and HEART

At HubSpot, Shah explained, potential employees are evaluated on their HEART, a five-letter acronym for the qualities most highly prioritized by the company: Humbleness, effectiveness, adaptability, remarkableness and transparency.

Although gauging cultural fit should be a component of any hiring effort, from low-level onboarding to executive recruiting, culture is unique to every organization. A Business Insider article from earlier this year offered insight into what the leaders of some of the country’s largest companies look for in potential hires.

“If you get here, and you find that you get your motivation from having a more competitive-focused culture, you might find our culture dull,” Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, told the Harvard Business Review, as quoted by the news source. Bezos explained that while some companies have conqueror mentalities, “we have an explorer mentality. And the people who like our mentality of exploration and pioneering, they tend to stay here, and have fun here, and that’s self-reinforcing.”

Speaking with Inc. magazine last year, Box co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie underscored his company’s focus on productivity and delivering results.

“We have a very execution-oriented culture,” Levie told the media outlet. “It’s kind of the opposite of a culture that has lots of process, lots of bureaucracy, slow decision-making.”

In a 2012 interview with Fortune, Lululemon CEO Christine Day said she looks for people who exhibit attributes often seen among a core part of her sports clothing company’s client base.

“Athletes are great within our culture; they’re used to winning, as well as losing,” she told the magazine. “They know how to handle – and fix – defeat. Also, they’re team players.”

Whether your firm prioritizes independence, collaboration, efficiency, resilience or another attribute, it is important that new hires are able to contribute toward your culture rather than detract from it. Companies that enlist executive search consultants can ensure they are looking in the right places.

About Caldwell Partners

Caldwell Partners is a leading international provider of executive search and has been for more than 40 years. As one of the world’s most trusted advisors in executive search, the firm has a sterling reputation built on successful searches for boards, chief and senior executives, and selected functional experts. With offices and partners across North America and in London, the firm takes pride in delivering an unmatched level of service and expertise to its clients.

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