Culture-first hiring

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Ash Bent – winner of our inaugural Conscious Culture Award, and Founder and CEO of the neon lights and signage company Sketch & Etch – systematically and purposefully conducts the first interview with potential new hires as a ‘culture-only interview’. Since he sees ‘culture fit’ as the trickier nut to crack (as opposed to say finding someone with the right skills or experience), he has designed his company’s interviewing processes to reflect its importance.

But what does it actually mean to find someone who’s a good ‘culture fit’? And, similarly, what does the term ‘culture-first hiring’ actually mean? Let’s dive in further and explore how these concepts – and practices that support them – can help take your team and your company to new levels of synergy, productivity, flow and success.

‘Culture-first hiring’ may sound like a practice that is relatively easy to execute, but in order to fully leverage and benefit from this practice, there is a lot that needs to happen behind the scenes.

Every country we spend time in, every family system we are part of, every  educational institution we have been enrolled at and every organization we have ever worked for has its own culture. But the question is – has that culture been cultivated consciously? Or, is it a culture that has been shaped by a number of different factors that – for the most part – are out of the line of view of the people concerned? One of the incredible things about company culture – as opposed to culture within countries or within families for example – is that there is an abundance of choice and autonomy when it comes to who we choose to invite into our culture. This fact lends incredibly well then when it comes to creating conscious culture. Being conscious, and creating conscious culture, however, doesn’t happen by itself. It takes work. Work that can be extremely rewarding and gratifying, but also painful…as it requires us to look inwards.

The genesis of creating conscious culture – and a thriving conscious culture at that – lies in our ability to know ourselves, as leaders. It all comes back to that. We have to do the work of uncovering who we really are – warts and all – if we are going to build conscious cultures in our companies…and if we are going to then leverage all the gold that culture-first hiring has to offer. When we invest our time (and our money) in this journey of self-discovery – as Barbara Mutedzi, Conscious Leadership Coach teaches us – we are more able to get to the root of what we authentically value, and we can then bring those values consciously to the companies we are building. If we haven’t ‘done the work’ on this front, there will be a high chance that what we profess to value clashes with what we actually value – and that will sow chaos and confusion throughout our companies. The more we know ourselves, the more we bring our authentic selves and values to the table, the more we can choose people who are aligned with those same values, and then the more our organizations thrive.

Toby Mildon, a UK-based Diversity & Inclusion Architect, shared at our Align Summit in February that, “One of my pet peeves is people talking about whether someone is a ‘cultural fit’ for a team.” Wait – what? Does that mean that this ‘culture-first hiring’ comes at the expense of building wonderfully diverse teams and companies? It doesn’t have to – and it shouldn’t – if done right. In fact, if done right, it should act as a springboard to creating an incredibly diverse ecosystem within your team. Toby expounded on his comment to tell the story of how he has seen hiring managers use ‘cultural fit’ as an excuse to rule out people who are different – and that these ‘decisions to rule people out’ are often driven by people’s unconscious biases. And Lorraine Charles – co-founder of Na’amal, an organization that provides employers access to refugee talent – has seen the same abuse of the concept of ‘cultural fit’. She says, in her experience, when a hiring manager turns down a candidate citing ‘culture fit’ as the reason, often this is code for ‘this person isn’t Western enough’.

So. When pursuing a strategy of conscious culture and culture-first hiring, how can we be sure that we aren’t falling into these traps? That we are doing it in a way that expands our company’s diversity rather than constricts it? Well, for our Founder and CEO Sarah Hawley, she defines culture as the values of the organization. And if these values have been created from an authentic place, this can create a sturdy framework through which you can build an incredibly diverse team. For example, at Growmotely, our company values are (1) Stay curious, stay open, (2) Constant innovation, (3) Passionately committed, (4) Transparency and candour and (5) Empowerment and ownership. When we look at hiring through the lens of our company values, and when we leverage a platform like our own to tap into a global talent pool, the sky is the limit when it comes to our capacity to build diverse teams. We then have everything we need to not only find candidates who are exceptional cultural fits, we can take it one step further and find candidates who are – to use the term that Toby Mildon champions – culture contributors.

But of course, this all begs the question: why is cultural fit and alignment something that we might even want to pursue in the first place? What benefits do we gain from having a team where everyone buys into the company’s values? Acknowledging that a full exploration of this is outside the scope of this piece, I will focus on merely a handful of reasons here. 

  • The first reason is when you know who you are as a person and as a company – and you communicate that clearly to the world – your future team members can more easily find you. In fact, chances are that they will start emerging from all corners and declare their interest in working for your company. For example, Ayotale Omereonye – a remote professional who recently secured a job via our platform – said this upon seeing the job posting for the role she now has: “The moment I saw it, I said to myself, this role embodies everything that I am. Even the values of the company – this is me.” 
  • A second reason is that when we focus on cultural fit, we have greater chances of attracting people who are willing to work outside of their area of expertise. Whereas we certainly need team members who are experts in their field, bringing in those who are not experts in their role can add vitality and innovation to our company ecosystems – and these professionals are often happy to work for less money than they might otherwise…in return for being able to try their hand at something new in a company that feels completely aligned with their values. And let’s face it, when it comes to start-ups, we often are working within limited budgets.
  • The third reason is simple but of the utmost importance: the happiness factor. Working in aligned teams where everyone buys into – and embraces – the company values leads to more happiness for everyone, which creates a vibrant culture and ultimately is the fuel that allows companies to really take-off and do great things.

In summary. What is the recipe then, for a successful and expansive embodiment of culture-first hiring? It would seem to be this: (1) Know thy self – which is a lifelong pursuit. (2) Translate knowledge of self into a set of company values that provides a framework for how you would like to live and work. (3) Choose platforms (like our own) and channels that not only showcase these company values, but have technology and processes that are custom-built to leverage these values. (4) Set up hiring practices that support your quest in culture-first hiring – such as Ash Bent’s ‘first interview is a culture interview’ practice. (5) Continually work on your own unconscious biases – which will become easier once you are working with team members from all over the world, as they will serve as mirrors to your biases. (6) Make space for your company values to evolve as you evolve as a person and as a company. (7) Rinse and repeat.

Here at Growmotely, we see culture-first hiring as not only a vehicle to creating thriving teams and companies, we also see it as a practice through which we can grow and expand in the realm of diversity and inclusion. How do you see culture-first hiring? If not culture – what do you put in the number one spot when it comes to hiring – and why? And if culture-first hiring appeals to you – what are some of the practices you have in place and systems you use to reinforce this way of being and moving in the world? And how do you ensure that you don’t fall prey to your own unconscious biases?

The Future of Work – as we see it – is rooted in consciousness, conscious culture, and conscious business practices. One of the ways in which we see this playing out is through culture-first hiring. We would love for you to join us in creating this exciting – and expansive – future.

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In her latest book CEO and Founder Sarah Hawley takes you through her personal journey of stepping into a more conscious way of leading, by living a life of integrity, bringing more compassion and love into our lives and our businesses, and empowering those we lead to reach for their highest potential. Sarah’s story will inspire you toward discovering your unique heart-centered existence as an entrepreneur, leader, and human.

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