Hire People Who Buy Into What You’re Doing

Five years ago I worked for a startup in Manhattan called Viggle. Viggle was a mobile app that was a rewards program for watching television.

Viggle’s business model was reliant on a user base that was passionate about TV. The whole app focused on engaging users with different shows and broadcasts.

I watch a lot of TV. I enjoy great shows. And working on a product related to something I like was a big draw. So it surprised me as a learned how many engineers who worked on Viggle didn’t own a TV. Not only didn’t own a TV, but many were almost proud of not owning a TV (in that New York hipster way).

It seemed strange to me how people could work on something when they had no real interest in the product. If you don’t watch television, how can you empathize with the users of a product for people who love television?

Viggle was also the first time I’ve been a hiring manager. I’ve hired a lot of people and built some great development teams since then. Most hiring processes make a big deal about skills fit and culture fit. But I think they miss an important third pillar of the hiring process; mission fit.

The first two of these pillars are simple.

Skills fit — does the person you’re interviewing have the right skills for the job?

Culture fit — does the person you’re interviewing seem like they’ll fit in well with the rest of the team? Will they be a good match for the office culture as a whole? (there’s a whole other article to write about the emphasis on culture fit and hiring diversity)

And mission fit is also simple, even though it’s more often overlooked.

Mission fit — is the person you’re interviewing interested in what you’re making? Do they have a passion for your product or service, or some aspect of it?

It surprises me how often mission fit is overlooked.

Maybe it’s more important to me. Technical or management challenges are interesting. An engaging office environment is cool. But unless I care about the product or service itself, I’ll get bored. I’ve been told I get bored easily! I want to work on something I have some passion for.

When I first moved to Austin I worked for six months for a company called Key Ingredient. It has a website and mobile app built around cooking and recipes. I love cooking, so it seemed like a good mission fit. It was a product related to something I cared about.

But when I joined I discovered I wouldn’t be working on the main product at all. I’d be working on something called “My Family Vault.” A product based on storing and sharing digital “family assets”. Photos, legal documents, etc.

It’s not that it was a bad product idea. Amazon launched their own “Prime Family Vault” service last year. But I wasn’t very interested in it. I don’t take lots of photographs. I don’t have a large family. I wasn’t the target audience. I had no passion for it.

Now, Key Ingredient had a lot of other problems. I didn’t stay for very long. But if I’d had a passion for the product they were building then I might have stayed longer. I might have been more productive. I’d have been more bought into the work I was doing. I was the right technical fit for the job. I was an OK culture fit for the people I worked with. But I didn’t fit the mission.

You don’t have to love everything about what you work on. But I don’t think the satisfaction of solving technical problems is enough in the long term. There needs to be something about the product that you care about.

I don’t have an abiding passion for Enterprise Cloud solutions. But I do care about making developers’ lives easier. So I care about the work that’s done on IBM’s Cloud Platform.

Mission fit is pretty simple. Do you care about the end product in some deeper way than having solved a technical problem. Is it more than an intellectual exercise? Mission fit creates a greater sense of ownership. It instils a greater passion for excellence. For me, that’s a vital factor when hiring new talent.