You Become Who You Hire

By Jack Butcher, President, Hagerty

What was your best hiring decision? Your worst? It feels like being asked to name your single favorite food or movie character.

For me, one of the best hiring decisions was an early-career, ambitious “Jedi Knight” who immediately took the initiative. This person embraced learning, ran to the gaps, took smart risks, loved to be coached, was a team player, and was willing to be lousy at something new — all traits we should never outgrow as leaders. Years later, this “kid” went on to become a senior officer and leader of a major segment at a Fortune 500 firm. I am proud of my decision and proud of the individual — and am not at all surprised by their achievements. It’s what I expected.

Conversely, a less-than-stellar hiring decision I made decades earlier in my career involved an individual whom I was pressured by my boss to hire — a “high-performing revenue generator” candidate. Something bothered me, though: they had a reputation for being a bully, something that ran against my personal values and our culture of teamwork. Against my own judgment, I capitulated to my boss’s urging and hired them anyway. It turned out to be a bad decision, both for the organization and the individual. We hit our numbers (for a short while) but team morale dropped and people complained — even a few clients. Ultimately, but not surprisingly, we parted ways, morale soon rebounded, and we found another high achiever who worked better within our culture.

Decades — and several jobs — later, I reflect on those hires (and leadership lessons) frequently and have come to understand that, for better or worse, you become who you hire (and promote).

Finding that right “culture match” is critical. At my company, for instance, we seek and promote people who possess and drive a growth mindset across the team and embody the skills and selfless character traits that we want our members and partners to experience with us. Those descriptors help drive a strong culture. As leaders, we set and shift culture each time we hire or promote someone. If we hire aggressive people, we will become an aggressive culture. Hiring from one background/profile will shift our culture in the direction of that background. When it’s intentional, it is awesome to watch. When it’s unintentional, though, a quiet shift can derail your intent from within and you might not even know it until damage is done.

The point is that when we as leaders hire well we reinforce the habits, traits, and values that make our organizations flow.

That cuts both ways. Sometimes, when hiring, there is a very human tendency to focus on one targeted skill or trait that you most want in an employee. Wise leaders are aware of this “tunnel vision” and avoid a monocular focus that can miss more impactful (and sometimes detrimental) character traits or habits that detract from a culture’s ultimate goals.

How? For me, I challenge myself to think about hiring and promoting through at least three critical lenses:

1) How does this person fit/galvanize our culture?

2) How will this person make us/the team better?

3) How well will this person be admired in their job?

Positive responses to all of these questions are non-negotiable for me. These three simple filters work substantially more often than not, but even then, I know that nothing is certain.

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Culturati is a community of CEOs, entrepreneurs, investors and other c-suite leaders who practice & study culture building and share our play books.