There's a term which in the sense of hiring (and firing), is more loaded than anything else. I'm talking about the culture fit.

A recent post on the Lighthouse blog (a product I'm actively using and that I'm a big fan of, by the way!) states that not checking for culture fit is one of the eight interview mistakes that cost you great candidates.

The post brings up the most peculiar example in this regard, a company culture of drinking (disclaimer: I've been a non-drinker for more than 16 years now). If your company has a culture of heavy drinking, then you can be sure as hell that someone like me will neither fit nor want to fit into that culture.

Startup culture in particular is known for their silent rituals and expectations on new hires. If a mum or dad can't go out to a bar at night, that's a thumbs-down, right? After all, they're not willing to socialize, and your company is like a family. A family that drinks together to create and maintain bonds.

The word culture fit continues to be thrown around both as reasons not to hire someone and to fire someone. It's a simple explanation, and it should be clear to anyone on the team (and the person affected) why they're not a culture fit, right?

There's one fundamental mistake in both using and looking for culture fit as a means for hiring: You're assuming that your current culture is healthy and doesn't need to be changed.

Using culture fit as a reason to fire or not to hire says more about you than it says about them. It says that you're not willing to dig deep and figure out what exactly you think doesn't match in your expectation and a candidates personality. It shows that your culture is a fixed property of your company and team, one that can't be changed, one that is exactly where you want it to be.

Culture fit is a reason to continue maintaining the status quo.

But let's take it one step at a time.

What is culture?

Culture fit is a loaded word, because the word culture has so many possible definitions. There are a lot of layers in your company.

It's safe to assume that culture is represented by your company's and team's values. If you've poured lots of work into those, then you have a good definition of your team's expected behaviour.

But culture goes beyond that. Culture is what happens at your company every day. Culture includes founders buying themselves expensive cars from a secondary investment.

Culture includes silent expectations like going to socialization events in evenings, like drinking at bars, dinners and other company events. No one wants to put those on job ads, right?

Culture is how you write and phrase your job ads. Culture is whether you're looking for rock stars or want to build a great team and help people grow. Culture is how you pay your people. Culture is how a CEO behaves towards their team and in public. Culture is how leadership fosters and drives change. Culture is how you treat your customers. Culture is how you treat your team. Culture is how open you are to changing the status quo. Culture is a team that only consists of white dudes in their late twenties.

Culture is that ping pong table in your office. Culture are all those free and unhealthy soft drinks that your company keeps in the fridge. Culture is serving your team breakfast or lunch (or both?) every day to make sure they're in the office for as long as possible. Culture is talking about commitment issues when someone on your team needs to leave early because they have children to take care of.

Everything you do every day, in your company and team, is part of your culture.

If your assumption is that no one should be able to be a part of that and that it's written in stone and cannot be changes, then by all means, hire or fire based on culture fit.

Culture fit is a means to keep people out of a protected and privileged circle, rather than to protect that circle's values, which is probably what you think it is..

Culture fit is a means to avoid talking about whether your culture is healthy and whether it needs to be improved, and most importantly, to avoid actively changing and improving it.

Stop using "culture fit"

If culture fit isn't a reason for not hiring someone or firing someone, then what is?

Culture fit is a loaded word because it can have so many meanings, it can apply on so many layers of your company. Using it means you want to spend little time on figuring out where exactly someone isn't a good match for your own expectations and why those expectations exist.

The best way to avoid falling into the culture fit trap is to have an honest look at why someone doesn't match your expectations. Did they not match implicit or explicit expectations? If they're implicit, are they really a part of your company culture? If they are, why are they not explicit?

If socializing over drinks is an expectation you have, then you should be honest enough to make it an explicit expectation. Or, if you want my advice, you should revisit why and whether it's such an important part of your culture.

Because I can tell you right here, making it explicit will help keep even more people out of your precious circle. Parents, people of religion who don't drink, non-drinkers. You can be sure that those people will never be part of your team, and that your team will continue to attract the same kind of people that are already a part of it.

"Culture fit" hampers the biggest benefit of any great team: diversity. Stop using it and start looking at the real reasons why you don't want to hire someone. They might not be their flaws but yours.

Tags: culture

A reality where success isn't measured in the amount of funding rounds or size of acquisitions but in terms of monthly revenue and positive cash flow.

A reality where a startup's impact isn't measured with a hockey stick, but based on the impact it has on its community, its people and its customers.

A reality where startups acknowledge their own survivor bias and realize that not everything they've done has lead them to where they are now, but that they're here in spite of what they did.

A reality where failure is neither celebrated nor punished, but always used as an opportunity to learn and improve.

A reality where diversity is a requirement to build a great company rather than an afterthought.

A reality where co-founder isn't a badge of honor, but where everyone in the company focuses on what they do now and in the future, regardless of their past achievements.

A reality where humility rather than a big ego is a fundamental attribute of founders and teams.

A reality where startups focus on the good they can do rather than how fast they can grow.

A reality where startups are celebrated for how little money they needed to get to where they are rather than how much money was invested in them.

A reality where startups focus on work-life balance rather than try to keep their people in the office and focused on work for as long as possible.

A reality where startups focus on a great work environment and supporting a remote culture rather retaining their people by providing snacks, soft drinks, and other kinds of perks.

A reality where openness and transparency are the default modus operandi.

A reality where startups don't hire ninjas or rockstars or "the best," but on hiring great people and helping them grow.

A reality where talking about money, cash flow, revenue, profits, and costs of running a startup is a source of inspiration rather than seen as losing a competitive advantage.

A reality where startups acknowledge that there is no perfect reality, only experimentation and continuous improvement.

None of these realities exist in isolation, and none of them necessarily needs the other to co-exist. But imagine a world where a majority of them coincide.

Is any of these realities better? That's up to you to decide.

All of these realities exist today, in one way or the other. They're alternate realities, they're not dreams.

Tags: startups

Early mornings are pristine, they're my favorite time of the day. As the sun keeps coming up earlier and earlier, I find myself waking up at 6. Rather than do anything else, I either go for a run or skate, or I grab a book and a cup of coffee and read.

Mornings are usually my most creative time. I have a clear head that allows me to think freely and focus on the kind of work that requires attention and creative thinking. That means I write, or work on strategic topics relevant to the company, or I read the occasional article, book or paper too. In different times, I'd write code during these hours.

This time usually stretches beyond breakfast, until around noon. After that, there's meetings (I only schedule meetings after noon), one on ones, and increasing chatter and activity around the office.

In other words, the number of distractions increases as the day goes by.

These kinds of distractions aren't necessarily a bad thing. Meetings, one on ones, office chatter, they all have their place, and they're all important. All of them are at least half of what my job entails these days.

But how does email fit into all of this?

As soon as you open email, your attention gets sucked away from everything else. As you go through your inbox, you're faced with all kinds of problems, questions, feedback, vendor requests, meeting notes and invites. Your attention span shortens with every email you process, deciding on whether it warrants a response, being careful about your own responses along the way.

Usually, after I plow through my inbox, afterwards I have little attention span left to focus on a single task. Instead I now have dozens of other topics in my head that drain my focus pool, commanding my creative resources away from work that requires my full focus.

The same is true about Twitter. You're immediately sucked into other people's bad days (or good days) and cat pictures, luring your focus away from yourself and your day.

The temptation of email is great and hard to resist. When you're done working through your inbox, you have that great feeling of accomplishment. Only then do you realize that you still have other work to do and that your meetings for the day aren't too far off.

Time slips, and so does your focus work.

But I'm the CEO, and people need to communicate with me!

They do, and everyone's welcome to step up to my desk or ping me online (if I'm in chat). Most things that come up in those first hours of the day, though, are things that I can follow up on later. That's the important part. It's the following up that matters rather than wanting or getting an immediate response. Especially in remote and distributed teams, communication is asynchronous.

So when do I read my emails?

I schedule blocks every day, when I focus only on email. This doesn't always work, but having this explicit schedule does magic beyond having a specific time. It gives me the mental freedom to focus on important work. I know that I have my slot for email later, and I have it every day. Instead of worrying about an ever-growing inbox, I know that every day I'll have a slot in my calendar that allows me to focus on email and email only.

Try this out for a week. Instead of opening email in the morning, open your notebook and write down two or three tasks that you want to get done before lunch. Then work through them. What you can get done in just two hours and by focusing only on work is pure magic.

Tags: productivity