Culture and fit are among the most important things to vet future hires for, especially in the early days of a startup’s life. Regarding organizational culture, it’s in the first 18 months that the cultural values and the essence of the organization’s DNA become established, and later can be very difficult to change. To maximize the chances of establishing a strong culture with the kind of values that will endure for the long run, make sure that someone (preferably a co-founder) on the interview lineup team is solely responsible for cultural DNA evaluation, and that they are completely comfortable that your early hires will enhance and strengthen your culture, not merely comply with it. The 2 chief reasons why someone will succeed or fail in their role at a startup are:
- Technical chops
Technical chops are easily evaluated with some kind of technical assessment tool, like pivot tables on an excel spreadsheet for finance people, or an iOS test for mobile developers, etc. The technical assessment of a candidate’s qualifications are straightforward and will usually result in good matching. Therefore, the more prevalent reason for failed hires is an improper match between an organization’s cultural DNA and a candidate’s personal DNA. The responsibility of determining whether a candidate will adapt well and complement the company’s cultural DNA falls squarely on the founder(s) or early leadership team of a startup.
The proper exercise for the founding leadership team is to take some time to self-assess and clearly articulate the cultural DNA and values that are most important in how the company will conduct its business. Any handful of leaders, when asked about such things like leadership, goal setting, priorities & tradeoffs, will likely opine in different ways. What’s most important is that the team identifies the basic operating principles and cultural values that define the organization. A clear statement of values and operating principles is like a beacon of light to attract the right people to your startup and repel the wrong people, simultaneously. Replicate the DNA – hire people who embrace learning, growth and talent development as much as operational execution. Invariably, these are the people that thrive at startups and become your future managers & leaders. Further, there may exist a need for core competency evaluation specific to a role that also falls under the category of ‘fit.’ TopGrading by Brad Smart is the definitive book on the issue of evaluating against core competencies.
Summary Action Items:
- Create a clear statement of values and operating principles that you want to define the startup’s cultural DNA.
- Display it publicly and explain it to all new hires in their first 72 hours (these first hours will color the entire employment experience for a new hire).
- Interview everyone against your cultural DNA and against technical chops / core competencies required for the role. Explore whether an adapted version of TopGrading makes sense for your startup. (the full version may be too cumbersome).
- Hire people who get things done and want to take the time to grow people.
- BONUS: Follow the “No ‘Jerks’ Rule” – do not hire people who poison the work environment with their aggression or who have difficulty working well with others. Jerks tend to decrease productivity and dampen overall morale.
Image credit: CC by Simon Law