The Dangers of Hiring for Cultural Fit

Employers often aim to hire people they think will be a good fit, but their efforts can easily veer into a ditch where new hires all look, think and act alike

What happens when a boss tries to foster a more inviting workplace, but not everyone feels invited?

Employers often aim to hire people they think will be a good “cultural fit,” with attributes that will mesh with a company’s goals and values. But their efforts can easily veer into a ditch where new hires all look, think and act alike. That’s bad for anyone who cares about an office with a mix of races, genders and points of view.

“What most people mean by culture fit is hiring people they’d like to have a beer with,” says Patty McCord, a human-resources consultant and former chief talent officer at Netflix. “You end up with this big, homogenous culture where everybody looks alike, everybody thinks alike, and everybody likes drinking beer at 3 o’clock in the afternoon with the bros,” she says.

Human-resources consultant Patty McCord says some employers err in trying to attract top talent by offering such frills as office ping pong or the latest craft beer. PHOTO: DEVI PRIDE

An alluring culture is a coveted prize in today’s tight labor market, surging to first from fifth place in the last five years as the most important factor in recruiting top talent, according to a 2018 Korn Ferry survey of 1,100 hiring managers. But there’s a difference between cultural frills like office ping pong and craft beer, and deeper ones that mean more. To employees, it means loving a job for more than just the paycheck. And to employers, it means employees will keep working hard even when no one is watching.

Making a good match can be difficult. In a pattern researchers call looking-glass merit, hirers tend to look for traits in candidates that make them feel good about themselves. These may be more nuanced than race or gender. A manager who got bad grades as a college freshman is likely to warm to an applicant who also got off to a rough start, research shows. Or a hirer who attended a low-prestige school may favor applicants who did the same.

“What most interviewers are looking for and acting on is more of an intuitive sense of, ‘Would I get along with this person?’ and that often isn’t very reliable,” says Kirsta Anderson, global head of culture transformation in London for Korn Ferry.

Employees err in taking a job because it offers office ping pong, free lunches or heated toilet seats. Ms. McCord recently met an HR executive who claimed to keep employees happy by serving up the latest craft beers. “Well, that sounds like a fun vacation. I’d probably go to that resort. But that’s not what you’re here to do,” says Ms. McCord, author of “Powerful,” a book on building workplace cultures.

Hiring managers need to go deeper and figure out whether applicants are in sync with more fundamental elements of their culture, Ms. Anderson says. Are they excited about how the company innovates, serves customers or makes a social impact? Will they mesh with the way individuals and teams at the company work, by collaborating or competing? And will they naturally make decisions the way the employer wants—individually or as a group, embracing or avoiding risk?

It isn’t easy to suss out those traits in an interview. Jeanne Leasure, a human-resources executive, recalls interviewing applicants for a job that gave employees a lot of autonomy. She was looking for recruits who were self-starters, but wound up hiring one who turned out to be a lovable slacker. “We hit it off, we had similar personalities,” and the applicant gave convincing answers when she asked him about past accomplishments, she says. But on the job, he didn’t have as much drive as she’d hoped, says Ms. Leasure, who was recently named senior vice president, people, at SpotX, an ad-tech company based in Broomfield, Colo. She has begun asking more probing questions, such as, “What was your work ethic like as a teenager?”

Ad-agency founder Ed Mitzen looks for recruits who are empathetic and at ease in his company’s flat, no-titles, team-based culture. PHOTO:FINGERPAINT

Fingerpaint Marketing is a flat organization with no lofty job titles, and its teams must work smoothly together on tight deadlines. When Ed Mitzen, founder of the Saratoga Springs, N.Y., agency, interviews candidates, he explores whether they’ll be kind to everyone regardless of status, and pleasant to work with. If teammates enjoy working with them, he reasons the team will get more done and do better work.

He screens out big egos partly by asking drivers for his company’s car service how candidates treated them en route to and from the interview. “If they’re a jerk to the car-service guy, that’s a warning sign,” Mr. Mitzen says. He once rejected an applicant partly because he put on airs with the driver and expected him to open the door for him.

“Really? You’re applying for a $150,000-a-year job,” Mr. Mitzen says. “You’re not applying to be ambassador to France. Take it easy.”

The best hires find the company’s business goals motivational, Ms. McCord says. “A big filter for hiring people at Netflix was, were they interested in our goal of making the customer happy?” Ms. McCord says. She invited applicants to see the customer as someone like their mom—not the engineer at the next desk, she says.

Many employers post their cultural values on the wall but fail to make them explicit to job applicants, says S. Chris Edmonds, author of “The Culture Engine.” This can easily lead to misfires. Some 7% of workers ages 24 to 36 say they dislike their employer’s culture so much that they intend to quit their jobs in the next two years, according to a 2019 survey by Deloitte of 13,416 millennial employees.

More young workers are holding employers accountable for their values, and insisting that their companies stand for something, Mr. Edmonds says. Some 32% of millennials say businesses should try to reduce inequality and support better education, but only 16% of the employees say companies are actually doing so, the Deloitte survey shows. And while 27% of millennials think businesses should protect the environment, only 12% believe they’re doing so.

The growing employee activism is marked by walkouts protesting employers’ stance on the environment, immigration policy or use of their technology for military drone strikes. Some 38% of developers have approached their leadership with such misgivings or concerns, according to a recent HackerRank survey of 71,000 software developers.

All that promises to put more CEOs on the hot seat. As employees become more vocal, “C-suite leaders will have to listen,” Mr. Edmonds says. And that, he says, is a good thing: “It helps employers get clearer about, ‘This is what we stand for.’ ”

The Problem with Jordan Peterson

–Our long form analysis of Jordan Peterson, and more specifically the movement that has been created around him, including its ideology, shortcomings, and more

 

loyalty that extends beyond reason what
the peterson fans need to understand is
that this type of devotion is partly
what fuels the unfair criticisms of
peterson it’s a circle when a public
person has a huge group of zealous
attack dogs who pounce on any critic of
the movement the movement becomes more
fun and attractive to criticise to
outsiders now I’m not saying it should
be that way but without question this
kind of cringy fanboy behavior of so
many peterson fans is itself what turns
people off of jordan peterson people
shouldn’t
strawman peterson people shouldn’t
criticize peterson dishonestly but the
adoration of his fans is part of what
feeds it and you might say oh that’s
unfair and I’m agreeing with you I’m
saying yeah that is unfair but there are
many peterson fans who would benefit
from being a little bit more self-aware
one of the most disconcerting things
about peterson fans is how seriously
they take themselves something that
open-minded people with a sort of
healthy diversity of intellectual
influences rarely do they rarely take
themselves so seriously most people
actually learn to become embarrassed
about taking themselves so seriously and
they eventually grow out of it which may
be some peterson fans will do so to be
Peterson talks about the importance of
thinking for yourself Peterson gives
fans a way of feeling smart without
actually having to thoroughly study the
intellectuals that Peters
sites much less the countless
philosophers with viewpoints that
directly contradict Peterson in really
credible and important ways being a
loyal unquestioning Peterson fan doesn’t
really demand much of you right it’s
easy many in Peterson’s audience are
relying on his interpretations and his
conclusions about philosophical issues
and current events without doing much
thinking on their own and that’s what
gurus do and enable their followers to
do

The Washington Post doesn’t actually quote Jeff Sessions and the Context

But here’s the thing. In this nearly 2,000-word article, the Post apparently couldn’t find the room to include the actual question Franken asked. Instead, the authors wrote:

At his Jan. 10 Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign.

I am not saying that this is an indefensible paraphrase of Franken’s question. Certainly, a lot of Democrats think this gets to the heart of it. But a lot of other people think it doesn’t capture it at all.

Here’s what Franken’s asked Sessions in its entirety:

CNN has just published a story and I’m telling you this about a story that has just been published, I’m not expecting you to know whether it’s true or not, but CNN just published a story, alleging that the intelligence community provided documents to the president-elect last week that included information that quote “Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” These documents also allegedly say quote “there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.” Again, I’m telling you this is just coming out so, you know . . . but, if it’s true it’s obviously extremely serious. And if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russians in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

A reasonable person — a category that I think includes Jeff Sessions — can read this and believe that the crux of the question Franken is asking can be found in that last sentence: “And if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russians in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”

And it just so happens that’s the question Sessions answered.

.. He told me that the Post has a giant screen on the wall of the newsroom that displays in real-time their web traffic. Ben noted that nearly all of the most-read stories were anti-Trump. He asked whether we can rely on the press to be objective when all the market incentives are for Trump-bashing all the time.

.. One of the great (or terrible) things about the Internet is that it allows the suits to put numbers behind everything a journalistic outfit puts out. This makes it easier for editors to substitute data for their own judgment. The same dynamic was at work with the advent of sophisticated TV ratings.

.. In the world of business, this kind of thing is a huge boon. Walmart’s revolutionary impact on retail stems in no small part from its ability to micro-slice data so they can manage their inventory in incredibly efficient ways. The Peoria, Ill., store sells nine sets of Wolverine superhero underoos every week while the Gary, Ind., franchise only sells three but it also moves a huge amount of air fresheners (because Gary smells so bad), etc.

But journalism is supposed to be different. Editors are supposed to use their judgment about what information readers should get. Sometimes, this involves a lot of eat-your-spinach reporting that isn’t exactly sensational or sexy — but is important nonetheless.

.. And while obsession with web-traffic statistics is a real problem (back when I ran NRO, I’d hit refresh on the traffic software like a monkey hitting the pellet dispenser in a cocaine study every few seconds), the real problem is that we are in an era of groupthink, populist fervor, and cultural and political panic.

.. The New York Times refused to quote Jeremiah Wright’s inflammatory rhetoric even as it reported on the controversies about it.

.. like with the Post leaving out Franken’s actual question — isn’t to say the editors didn’t have defensible arguments for their decisions, it’s simply to say that the media have a tendency to look for excuses to invoke their ideals when that will yield the kind of news that supports their ideological or partisan leanings.

Liberals have either not noticed this or dismissed this tendency for the most part, because it comports with their own ideological and partisan worldview. But conservatives have noticed. That’s why Donald Trump’s “fake news” rhetoric has such wide currency on the right.

.. To the extent that Donald Trump has damaged democratic norms (and he has), his success is attributable to the fact that elites — in journalism, but also in academia and elsewhere — have corrupted those norms to the point where a lot of people see them as convenient tools for only one side in the political and cultural wars of our age.

.. There’s a reason why so many conservatives have become perverse acolytes of Saul Alinsky. They think the Left broke all the rules and therefore the only recourse for the Right is to play by the same tactics. The problem with this approach is that when you adopt amoral (or immoral) means, those means tend to create new ends: Winning.

.. It’s telling how the chief defense of Trump’s behavior during the campaign was, “At least he fights!” Conservatism isn’t supposed to be just about fighting, it’s supposed to be about fighting for something. Populism is about winning for its own sake.

.. Donald Trump didn’t create the deterioration, but the way he practices politics is having a centrifugal effect on the process, pulling things apart even more.

.. It’s sort of like what football would look like if you removed all the rules save for the requirement to get touchdowns (and, I suppose, the requirement to relinquish the ball after scoring), with the fans cheering whatever brings victory to their team. A player killed a guy? At least he fights!

The Bow-Tied Bard of Populism

Tucker Carlson’s latest reinvention is guided by a simple principle—a staunch aversion to whatever his right-minded neighbors believe.

“I’m so pathetically eager for people to love D.C.,” he admits. “It’s so sad. It’s like I work for the chamber of commerce or something.”

If this boosterism seems out of character for a primetime populist like Carlson, he doesn’t seem to mind the dissonance. He speaks glowingly of his Northwest Washington neighborhood, a tony enclave of liberal affluence where, he tells me, he is surrounded by diplomats, lawyers, world bankers, and well-paid media types. They are reliably “wonderful”; unfailingly “nice”; “some of my favorite people in the world.” If you’ve watched Carlson on TV lately, you know they are also wrong about virtually everything.

.. “Look, it’s really simple,” Carlson says. “The SAT 50 years ago pulled a lot of smart people out of every little town in America and funneled them into a small number of elite institutions, where they married each other, had kids, and moved to an even smaller number of elite neighborhoods. We created the most effective meritocracy ever.”

“But the problem with the meritocracy,” he continues, is that it “leeches all the empathy out of your society … The second you think that all your good fortune is a product of your virtue, you become highly judgmental, lacking empathy, totally without self-awareness, arrogant, stupid—I mean all the stuff that our ruling class is.”

.. Carlson’s true talent is not for political philosophizing, it’s for televised partisan combat. His go-to weapons—the smirky sarcasm, the barbed comebacks, the vicious politeness—seem uniquely designed to drive his sparring partners nuts, frequently making for terrific television. Indeed, if cable news is ultimately theater, Carlson’s nightly performance is at once provocative, maddening, cringe-inducing, and compulsively watchable. Already, in its few short months in primetime, Tucker Carlson Tonight has created more viral moments than it had any right to do.

.. Though he has earned a reputation among his media antagonists for being an ambush artist—luring guests onto his show under false pretenses and then humiliating them with “gotcha” questions—Carlson says he’s always upfront while booking interviewees, and strives to avoid mean-spiritedness.

.. When I ask him why he was so infuriated by Duca, he thinks about it for a moment.

Finally, he answers, “It was the unreasonableness … It’s this assumption—and it’s held by a lot of people I live around—that you’re on God’s side, everyone else is an infidel, and by calling them names you’re doing the Lord’s work. I just don’t think that’s admirable, and I’m not impressed by that.”

.. the essence of Carlson’s case against the educated elites and well-heeled technocrats that comprise America’s ruling class (not to mention his neighborhood). They are

  • too certain of their own righteousness,
  • too dismissive of dissenters,
  • too unwilling to entertain new ideas.

.. When Carlson first joined primetime last year, he assigned his show a mission statement: “The sworn enemy of lying, pomposity, smugness, and groupthink.”

.. united in their hatred of a common enemy, the smug elites who Carlson rails against every night. And while he may have spent his life happily living among them, he’s clearly demonstrated he has no qualms about taking them on.