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Check Your Blind Spot: How Company Culture Can Stop Us from Seeing the Big Picture

March 25, 2021


Check Your Blind Spot: How Company Culture Can Stop Us from Seeing the Big Picture

As Q2 is about to start, a lot of organizations are leaping into hiring mode. Whenever we see “hiring season” or hiring frenzies come up, it pays to keep our brands in mind. After all, our brands start with the people working with us. Our team members are often our first fans, our first loyal customers. They help spread the word and start the conversation—even if they’re not in marketing. When we believe in a brand or product, when we’re proud of it, we want to tell everyone we know about it!

And that means employees are often the ones who get a brand off the ground. Because they believe, and because they share in our values, our vision. So when it comes time to hire someone else, we want to be sure that we’re bringing on the right people.

That leads us to a lot of talk about “company culture” and finding the right fit. And that kind of thing can be important: you need to know who you are as a brand, your values, and what you do.

But I’ve also seen it lead to massive oversights and bias in hiring. No, I’m not talking about not hiring women or not hiring people of colour—although that can definitely be part of it. I’m talking about an unwillingness to hire people who seem even a little bit different.

Here’s why we need to be careful about our preferences, our biases in “company culture” when we want to hire people.

Are You Hiring Anyone Different?

I distinctly remember that I didn’t bother applying for P&G when I was graduating. That was despite having seen Tim Penner speak and falling in love with this guy’s approach. I went back to the alumni office, and I pulled up other interviews with Tim. And I noticed something. In all of these—even ones from 10 years prior—he was wearing the same blue suit, red tie and white shirt.

And yes, okay, you’ve got a look. But there was a feeling there for me: this company doesn’t want you to step outside the box. They want you to be the same. They may never have asked Tim Penner to wear the same blue suit and red tie every day, but ask or not….the culture obviously had a look and feel that was overtly or subtly stated and the same would be asked of me to “fit”. Do the same thing. Be a robot. Sound harsh? Sorry, not sorry!

And this happens to brands! We’re often drawn to people who embody the same values we have. And we’re drawn to people who have similar thinking patterns, because they make sense to us. Someone who comes in with a fresh take, who is seeing things differently, may seem like they’re “not getting it.”

But that often means we end up hiring the same person over and over again—same suit, same tie. They might be different ethnicities or from different places or any number of things. But they think the same as you do.

Another example: I was a judge on a sponsored university panel last week. There were a few representatives from the company, each of them with their provocative cause marketing message in the background. There was this pressure-filled 2.5 hours of listening and then judging. And the presentations were amazing. The next step was working through choosing the top 3. It was fascinating. The two outsider judges chose completely different than this organization’s judges, who were all consistent in their choice. Are you feeling where I am going with this? 

Slick, salesy, exceptionally well-rehearsed even if the ideas that the pitches were based on were not as innovative as the others. Now in fairness, the judging was intended to be on the presentation. But, when you looked at the effort behind what went into the presentation, there were others that worked really hard on their idea AND did a solid presentation. 

When I stepped back, it was evident that this organization “chose in likeness” of themselves or what was familiar. Crazy consistency in their choices and consistent in the talent that was there from the organization to the university students themselves. The outlier judges did not choose the same types of students. 

So, is there any real diversity here? This organization’s judges were picking the people who best embodied their brand, what they thought they wanted to see. I do not think, they were even aware of this subconscious set of drivers in their decision making. But, their alignment certainly suggested that a different style, approach, personality did not breakthrough regardless of the idea, effort and sincerity in the student presenter. Interesting eh? They simply chose people who conformed to their cultural expectations of what was “good.”

What does this mean? Even when we start hiring women or people of colour or even just people from different places, we’re not hiring real, true diversity.

Wait, Don’t You Need to Hire for Cultural Fit?

It’s true that every company has a culture. At Mars, the people hired were triple Type-Aswho got tossed in the shark tank and competed until they burned out. (Don’t get me wrong, I loved it there…some of the smartest people I have ever got to work with). They got great work out of those people before burn out set in. GSK has a different culture….a family atmosphere, and people came first.

And yes, we do need to consider this to an extent. If you’re Mars and you hire someone who doesn’t fit that Type-A mold, they’re going to get eaten alive in the shark tank. They can be creative thinker, great worker—but you’ll miss it. And often, you’ll think they’re not performing, because they’re not doing exactly what you expect from them.

But here’s the thing about this: you don’t need to hire triple Type-As to get results. You can say, “Well, that’s our culture” all you like, but what it actually is … is bias. It’s your preference for people who think and act like you.

That doesn’t mean that a Type-B personality is actually a “bad fit” for your company. As I said, maybe they’re a great worker with awesome, creative ideas. And you just have no idea how to collaborate with them, how to support them to get that great work out of them. So you say, “Hey, this kind of person, they don’t work here, they don’t ‘fit in’ with our culture.”

But that’s not true … because they do support the same values. They just have a different way of approaching it, a new way of thinking about it. And if you could figure out how to support them, you’d see that.

Some of the absolute best hires I have had over the years, were from completely different industries or backgrounds and may not have been direct fit for the culture. But, they created a powerful team of unique thinkers and that is ultimately what I loved and why my business results were so strong. And we found a way to celebrate differences to get the best from each of us. 

You Have to Be Open to Difference and Diversity

This is where we get brands that think to support their culture or their brand or whatever, you have to hire clones. We end up with a “Corporate Bot 2000” problem. Everyone thinks the same way, comes up with the same ideas because they have the same “programming.”

You never come up with anything new, because you can’t see it any differently. This organization was a perfect example with their choices vs. the outlier judges. 

Think about how “culture” works in society at large. People share similar values, but they interpret those values in different ways. What says “trust” to one person may not say “trust” to another person. But they both value trust!

So when you start hiring diversely, you start getting all these different perspectives. What does trust mean to any one person in your culture? If you only hire the same person over and over, you’re going to see one way.

And this is where brands get trapped or stuck—doing the “same old, same old,” because there’s no other perspectives. Nobody to pipe up and say, “Hey, what if we thought about trust like this instead?”

That is a big, big problem! Too many of us get trapped in thinking, oh, our brand is like this. And we think that means we always have to do it this way, always have to think about it like this. Trust means this, and never anything else.

But … could it mean something else? And that’s where we have to remember our brands are living, organic things. They are growing, evolving, changing. Our brands respond to the environment! If your customers starting seeing “trust” differently and you’re stuck doing same old, same old, you’re going to lose them!

So your brand—and your team members too—have to be able to have this flexibility, to grow and learn and change. And if you’re getting people who think exactly like you, look at everything the same way, you’re not giving them any opportunity to do that.

Innovation Has to Be Part of the Brand’s DNA

This is where the need for innovation becomes so obvious. No matter what else you value—even if your brand is all about tradition—you need to be ready to innovate. Because your brand is always evolving and changing in response to your customers.

That means you have to be open to having diversity, these different perspectives come in. Yes, there’s a risk in getting the “wrong fit” for your company culture. But that has more to do with values than methods, really. If you don’t value difference and innovation, of course you’re not going to value a maverick who comes in with all these new ideas! Of course you’re going to say “nope, they don’t fit, no good!”

Because that’s a clash of values. If you’re open to innovation, change, and growth—if you value those things on a deeper level—that “new perspective” doesn’t look quite so scary or threatening. In fact, you’ll likely see that you and the supposed “bad-fit” maverick are actually on the same page about a lot of stuff. They’re just approaching it in a new way—seeing ideas you might never have thought of, because you don’t think the same!

That is good for an organization, for a brand. Yes, different perspectives can cause us to lock horns. Again, it’s often a value clash there, usually that a company that doesn’t value diversity in any real way. They say they do, but they're fighting back against every diverse thing they hear, trying to wrestle people into the “corporate mold” of “how we do things around here.”

If you can ditch that thinking, you’ll find that even people you think are radically different often do line up with your brand values. And they infuse your brand with new thinking, new life—and so much opportunity.

So, as you start thinking about hiring, absolutely think about your company culture. Think about what you actually value. And before you hire more “bots” and “clones,” think about what might happen if the brand did more than pay lip service to valuing diversity.

Ask yourself why you prefer people who look the same, think the same, offer the same solutions. Ask yourself why you want the candidate who ticks all the boxes, not just the most important ones.

Who we hire is crucial to supporting our brands as they evolve and grow, so spend some time here. And always start with the why!


Here to inspire and create conversation!

I am a business person who has excelled in driving a competitive edge through marketing, strategy, innovation, building irresistible brands and unlocking the genius that exists. I am writing to inspire or create new consideration. If you have ideas or questions that you would like me to put a pen too, I would be delighted.

I would also be grateful if you shared this or any of the articles I have written to inspire others

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