Your company’s success is dependent on the people you hire. Particularly if you are a startup, your early hires are critical to your company’s success. So it’s easy to say that you need to hire the “absolute best people you can find.” But what does this actually
There are two different and important variables –technical competence and cultural fit.
Imagine that you have a two-variable spectrum for each person—from low to high.
Now, hiring someone who is low on both technical competence and cultural fit makes no sense – disaster is guaranteed. And obviously, finding and hiring someone who is high on both technical competence and culture fit is the ideal outcome.
But what about the other two cases? How to decide?
Too often, managers default towards choosing people who have high technical competence, hoping that cultural fit will take care of itself. This is a big mistake - as this is exactly the wrong person to hire. While the new hire may have great skills for the job you need done, managing and integrating this person into your young team will cost time and money, and may be fatal to building a cohesive group. And you will incure
greater costs when you have to fire the person – causing expensive turnover that
you could have avoided by making a better initial choice. For leadership positions, there is an additional problem - your new hire will look to hire other people who have a cultural fit with them, rather than with the organization, quickly compounding the problem and putting the company at risk. Quickly, polarization happens and your young company wastes time and energy on issues that add nothing to success.
Of course, people with low competence but a high culture fit are also not great hires. But if they have “medium” competence, or have high competence in a related role, or if they’re early in their career and ambitious to learn new skills, they probably are a smaller risk than the high competence/poor fit employee.
While you always want to shoot for high competence, high cultural-fit people when you are hiring early in your company’s life, it’s always better to choose cultural fit over competence when you have to make a choice.
One lesson is to learn is that cultural fit, is in fact, a competence as important, and sometimes more important, than technical competence.
This article is based on ideas published by Brad Feld in the Wall Street Journal