Technical Skills vs Cultural Fit

  • by ad_admin
  • Dec 08, 2021
  • Blog

Hiring for cultural fit vs. hiring for skills

“A great vision without great people is irrelevant.” – Jim Collins, Good to Great

As business coaches, one question that we are regularly asked by clients is, “when I’m recruiting, what should I prioritise – the applicant’s technical skill or how they fit into our business?” 

Our short answer response is both.  

Obviously, when hiring, you want the best of both worlds. You want someone who has the technical skills and an attitude that match with your company culture. However, it’s not always possible to find that person. So, when faced with the decision to choose either a better technical skill or a better cultural fit, what should you do?

The Case for Technical Fit

“Everybody’s got a different circle of competence. The important thing is not how big the circle is. The important thing is staying inside the circle.” – Warren Buffett.

When it comes to hiring someone for your business, it is important that you recruit and select someone who possesses relevant skills and experience.  When making your initial selections, usually the only thing you have available to you is the applicants resume. During this process, you will be selecting the people who have both the necessary qualifications and proven experience in the area you are hiring for.  For example, you would not hire a mechanical engineer without a degree in mechanical engineering.  Additionally, unless you are looking to fill a graduate role, you will also want to see who else they’ve worked for and what they achieved in those roles.

During their interview, you should ask them scenario-based questions about their experience.  For example, asking them how they have dealt with real-life situations and what the outcome was, rather than a hypothetical situation. It’s more valuable for you to know how much of the skill, knowledge and experience they’re actually bringing to the role.

The Case for Cultural Fit

During your recruitment process, you also want to be on the look-out for how much your potential employee’s behaviour reflects the culture you have in your business. For example, if your business promotes a no-blame or no-excuse culture, your ears will be pricked for language that is laden with blaming others or things.  Are they talking about other employees who didn’t do their job properly? A boss who didn’t know what they were doing? Do they seem reluctant to own their part in failures?  Hearing any of these things reflects entrenched patterns of behaviour that you should consider seriously before making an offer to that person.

Is an Interview Enough?

“You can’t know enough in a one-hour interview. So, in the end, it’s ultimately based on your gut. How do I feel about this person? What are they like when they’re challenged? Why are they here? I ask everybody that: ‘Why are you here?’ The answers themselves are not what you’re looking for. It’s the meta-data.” – Steve Jobs

Unfortunately, many business owners only do an interview in their selection process. Studies have shown that this only gives you a 10 per cent chance of finding the right person for the job. A simple way of determining whether the person is a right fit for your business in the recruitment process is to have them meet the other team members. This feedback could give you critical insights into how the person really behaves when not “on show.” We’ve had clients pass on technically competent candidates because of how they behaved towards others in the team, such as males not looking females in the eye when talking to them or behaving rudely towards the reception team.

A Warning on Cultural Fit

“You can’t teach employees to smile. They have to smile before you hire them.” – Arte Nathan, Wynn Las Vegas

Cultural fit is not simply whether or not you ‘like’ the person in the interview or you support the same sporting team. One of the BIGGEST MISTAKES business owners make is that they hire people just like them to perform roles that aren’t the same as yours. “If you hire only those people you understand, the company will never get people better than you are. Always remember that you often find outstanding people among those you don’t particularly like.” Soichiro Honda, Honda Motor Co. Ltd

Cultural Fit Trumps Technical Skills

Personally, if we have to choose between two people of similar skills and experience, hands down my first choice will be the person who, from our discussions and team feedback, is the better cultural fit for our business. In fact, even if their skill level is a little less than the other person, I’d still choose the better cultural fit.

But what if you don’t have a good an applicant who’s a good cultural fit?

Then, if at all possible, wait. Re-run the ad, try another avenue, but do not hire anyone you think will negatively impact the culture of your business. The short-term relief is never worth the inevitable hit to your business’ productivity and profitability as their negative influence radiates through your people. If you think long term, you cannot create the team you do want if you continue to hire the people you don’t really want.

If you want to learn more about how to hire better, get in touch with us at Kaibizzen today! As experienced business coaches Brisbane, we’d love to help you get the business and the life you deserve.

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