Recruiting for cultural fit may be fine for leaders who are after a quiet life – but less so for those who are looking for truly innovative thinking, according to a 15 June Business Insider article.

In the piece, Owen Grover – CEO of podcasting app Pocket Casts – talks about the pearls of wisdom he picked up from his mentor Bob Pittman: founder of MTV and multi-platform broadcasting and ads giant iHeartMedia (formerly ClearChannel). While at the latter firm, Grover says, “Bob told me to always accept people with towering weaknesses as long as they are accompanied with towering strengths. These are people who are so quirky that their genius is often completely missed. It's easy to want everyone to get along, or to hire people that are easy to manage. But doing so is how you get Bs hiring Cs hiring Ds.”

He adds: “If people have strong strengths, encourage them, even if they don’t fit in.”

The piece chimes with a recent Harvard Business Review column by former Netflix talent chief Patty McCord, in which she argues that finding the right people is “not a matter of ‘culture fit’. What most people really mean when they say someone is a good fit culturally is that he or she is someone they’d like to have a beer with. But people with all sorts of personalities can be great at the job you need done. This misguided hiring strategy can also contribute to a company’s lack of diversity, since very often the people we enjoy hanging out with have backgrounds much like our own”.

McCord notes: “Making great hires is about recognising great matches – and often they’re not what you’d expect.” As a prime example, she cites Netflix’s Anthony Park: a “buttoned-down” programmer hired from obscurity because an app he’d developed enhanced the platform’s user experience. Park eventually rose to the level of vice-president.

What are leaders missing out by making culture fit a high recruitment priority?

“A great, confident team is one in which people can be challenged,” says The Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper. “This is particularly true of teams in which people can be challenged out of their comfort zones and spurred to glean insights from different views of the world. People who join you in your comfort zone in order to achieve some sort of cultural fit are not going to challenge you. I don’t like to use the term ‘personality clash’ – more often than not, they’re more about power than personality – yet within that challenge dynamic, there’s a clash of world views. And the main by-product of that clash is creative tension, which leads to innovation.”

Cooper notes: “If you get what someone is saying in a very instantaneous fashion, because the pair of you have some kind of shorthand, then that individual often doesn’t need to fully articulate their ideas. One undesirable result of that may be that those ideas – and your acceptance of them – may not receive reasonable scrutiny. However, if you don’t get what the person opposite you is saying straight away, it will require a better and more detailed explanation – and that’s a positive step all by itself. Pockets of discomfort like that are really helpful for encouraging you to challenge yourself and think about your decision making.”

She adds: “of course, we should want work to be fun, and it’s important to enjoy working with our colleagues. But even in teams with an element of clash and disconnect, when they start to succeed, the individual members start to like each other. Success truly galvanises team building, because the individuals concerned move to a new phase of accepting – and valuing – difference. And that, in turn, increases trust and confidence.”

For further thoughts on teamworking, check out these learning resources from the Institute

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