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Ambrosia Vertesi

Duo Security

VP of People

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Why hiring for cultural fit is holding back your company


Many organisations believe in hiring for cultural fit, following a methodology and thought process where ‘fit’ relates to a strong alignment to the company values and where an employee can come in and work collaboratively. For these organisations, cultural fit works just fine.

But ‘fit’ also has a connotation to it, implying that somebody should integrate with what you already have, moulding to what you are, falling in line and not bringing their unique self to the table. In these instances, ‘fit’ has become a platitude, in the same way people have played out the word ‘passionate’.

For a long time, it felt like nearly every job description wanted employees to be passionate.

It’s important to stop hiring for cultural fit and instead hire for cultural contribution, a philosophy that has been a key to our success. It’s important to have things like complementary skill sets and different perspectives, realities and experiences at the table when you’re coming up with ideas for a solution that should work for everybody.

But if you’re truly trying to put the customer at the centre of what you’re building, the team you structure should reflect that and the communities you’re providing a service for.

For example, more than 80% of our new hires do not come from a security background, although we are a security company.

We’re a diverse crew of makers and builders, skaters and coders, filmmakers and DJs, teachers and students brought together by a shared belief in adding value to the world. That diversity allows us to bring an empathetic approach to solve some of the most complex global business and security challenges faced today.

One size doesn’t fit all

Every organisation needs to decide what the right mix is for themselves in terms of the critical competencies required.

For a security company, security as a competency for building the right products is a no brainer.

One question we ask every potential hire is “what make you unique?”

However, whilst key skills are compulsory in engineering, research and product roles, in other areas we have the opportunity to bring in completely different points of view from different industries. It’s a balancing act and organisations have to be strategic when matching competencies to roles.

What isn’t negotiable, however, is that all new hires must have emotional quotient (EQ) just as much as IQ. Don’t trade character for intelligence – you need both.

The competitive advantage

In any sector that has been around for a long time – such as security – there are people with institutionalised ways of thinking who have learned behaviours over a long time. It doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of doing things differently – perhaps these methods have served them well – but it can often lead to stagnation in growth.

This is why we want to do things differently.

Security needs to be simple, easy and user-centric for it to be effective, rather than associated with scary red and black branding or ominous streams of code. This approach in any long-standing market requires a different mentality where we take a look from the outside in, leverage the talent and experience of individuals from various sectors and listen to customers about where their needs aren’t being met so we can design something unique.

This collective genius of diverse thoughts and backgrounds allows us to design something different within a pre-existing framework. It’s the very definition of disruption. Not only does this help from a brand and product perspective but also from a people and culture one.

It encourages diversity and inclusion not just in the HR team, but across the business and the way in which it goes to market.

Changing the cultural mindset

Culture is a hot topic in the technology and founder communities, and in HR as well. Using a cultural contribution framework, we encourage people to come to the table with what makes them diverse and unique, respecting that everyone has something different to bring.

What isn’t negotiable, however, is that all new hires must have emotional quotient (EQ) just as much as IQ. Don’t trade character for intelligence – you need both.

Those who make their peers better are high performers. They are collaborative and challenge the way we think and operate by bringing everyone’s unique talents to the forefront.

One question we ask every potential hire is “what make you unique?” The way people answer this question shows what we can learn from them.

We’re not looking for folks that only can do what we do. This focus allows us to have different conversations about what motivates individuals, what makes them stand out and what skills they’re hoping to gain.

It’s looking at a partnership between employee and employer, rather than fitting into a mould.

A culture grows strongest when everyone is able to bring their whole self to an organisation and focus on solving problems together.

Change is a constant we must embrace so we shouldn’t look at culture as something that remains static, but as something we want employees to help us grow.  

2 Responses

  1. Well-said! When businesses
    Well-said! When businesses are first starting up, they may feel like they are pigeon-holing themselves by pinning down a culture. However, like you describe in this article, this set of values and goals is just the foundation for what will inevitably ebb and flow as the company grows and learns! Hiring for culture fit isn’t about finding carbon copies of the rest of the team – it’s about finding individuals that mesh with the future that you want for your company and are excited to advance along with it. Geckoboard does a fantastic job at hiring for culture fit and following up to make sure it’s still applicable for the long-term:

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Fascinating piece, Ambrosia.
    Fascinating piece, Ambrosia.

    Do you have any thoughts on how workplace-conflict fits into your theme of not hiring for cultural fit? And is it that some base level/cut-off of EQ in employees mitigates any potential conflict?

    Looking forward to your thoughts.

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Ambrosia Vertesi

VP of People

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