Hiring for Culture: Beyond the Résumé
As a hiring manager, one of the hardest and most serious endeavors you can take on is deciding to grow your teams by hiring more people. The people you choose to bring in will affect the shape of your business for years to come by not only impacting the products and services you are able to deliver, but also by altering the dynamics of your team. Finding the right person can greatly change your team’s personality and productivity, helping them work smarter and build better things. However, finding the wrong person can be devastating, leading to friction, angst, and possibly even turnover. There are many aspects that are going to contribute to how an addition affects a team. Does the person bring different skills or experiences that the team is lacking? Does the person approach work in a manner that could help change how the team operates? Most importantly, though, is going to be how the person complements your team’s and company’s culture.
What Culture Isn’t
There are many ways in which we attempt to quantify and codify company culture and identify how individuals will interact. Sometimes we attempt to use assessments like Myers-Briggs and Kolbe to try and identify our strengths and weaknesses and plan out how we can work together. Sometimes we use less formal means to identify our tribes and gain a sense of belonging like Kongregate’s sorting hat or an attempt at work personas. The problem with these approaches is that they don’t account for the fact that a company’s culture is more than just the sum of its parts. A company’s culture is living and dynamic; it can change daily and be hard to analyze.
Kongregate visits the California Academy of Sciences.
In the same way that a company’s culture isn’t a set of assessments, it also isn’t all the things that a company can offer you or that its employees choose to engage in. An on-site chef and masseuse really don’t say much about the company, nor does lunchtime board gaming or after-work softball. They may be indications of what is at the heart of a company’s DNA, but they aren’t a substitute for what the company actually values. Likewise, finding people who are solely interested in these things won’t truly tell you how person will promote your company’s values.
What Culture Is
As stated above, a company’s culture is dynamic and can change daily, which means that it might be impossible to hire for a cultural fit. While the implementation of a culture should be fluid, the framework that it follows isn’t. As essential as it is for a company to have a clear understanding of its goals and roadmap for its offerings, it should also have a clear understanding of the things it values and wishes to embrace. Admittedly, Kongregate did not have a formally defined framework like this until around our 10th year, when during a daylong, company-wide offsite we were all asked to brainstorm what we thought Kongregate’s mission and values were. Groups broke out and formulated their take on what we perceived our culture to be. As our Exec team took all this input, a few very clear themes seemed to repeat themselves across all the groups' submissions. Without having ever formally announced it, most us knew what our culture was; we were living it every day. From that session, and with some refinement, we were able to identify our culture and codify it into the following mission and values:
- To nurture the growth and health of independent game developers and player communities
- Do the right thing even when it’s not convenient
- Be open and honest with ourselves, our partners, and our community
- Develop learning mindsets: embrace data, change, and failure
- Treat everyone with respect and empathy
- Create relationships through play and fun
Those six sentences express so much about what our culture is, how we operate, what we strive for, and what we value. With this list, we are able to assess candidates and dig into details about how they’ve upheld these values in their professional life and what they will do to contribute to progressing them if we brought them onboard. When preparing for interviewing a candidate I attempt to provide guidelines for each interviewer to hone in on specific aspects of their role, but one thing I ask every interviewer is, "Does the candidate present a strong sense of ethics aligning with Kongregate’s mission statement and values?" Identifying your company’s culture is not an easy endeavor, but it can be greatly beneficial to finding candidates who will fortify your culture and your company.