Hiring for commitment, not fit

Attracting and keeping the best talent is a high priority for us at Pluralsight. Being THE place where innovative, brilliant, committed people want to work is the best way to make sure we accomplish our goals and deliver on our mission.

But as any recruiter will tell you, finding the right match between a candidate and an organization is tricky.

In our hiring efforts, we’ve discovered something interesting: Hiring for culture fit doesn’t work for us any more. In fact, it’s an outdated practice that companies like Facebook, Atlassian, Netflix and others are abandoning in an earnest effort to drive diversity and inclusion. According to a 2018 LinkedIn Talent Solutions global hiring trends survey, 78% of hiring professionals say that diversity is the top trend impacting how they hire.

Still, many companies today say they hire by culture — and fire by it, too. When it comes to building a world-class team, focusing on culture fit is a limiting prospect that can hinder your success.

And on a more personal level, no one wants to hear the words “You’re not a culture fit for us.”

That’s like saying you don’t belong.

The limits of focusing on culture fit

When you hire based on culture fit, you tend to bring on people who look like you, act like you, and come from a similar background.

A couple years ago at Pluralsight, we realized we were falling into the trap of hiring people like us. That’s contrary to our company’s values and guiding principles.

Hiring for culture fit also didn’t scale well as our company grew, in large part because leaders found it hard to define and pinpoint culture fit during the hiring process. We were essentially asking people to do the impossible — to sit down with a candidate and in a few short moments, decide whether or not a candidate would “fit” with how we defined culture.

How frustrating for everyone involved.

If you think about it, the very idea of company culture is nebulous. And all too often, the perception of culture gets confused with the accouterments of a physical space — the location, food, décor, games and parties — that are better described as “culture theater.”

As our business grew, we needed a system in place to empower people to make effective hiring decisions based on a more reliable model.

Rethinking the hiring process

That’s why it made sense for us to shift the hiring process to focus on a commitment to values. Now, instead of trying to assess whether a candidate fits in, we put our values to work to broaden what fitting in means.

And we’ve found that the magic isn’t in the actual words associated with the values. Rather, it’s in the process of enabling commitment to a shared set of values that drive powerful relationships, innovation, accountability and performance.

At Pluralsight, we launched a new set of company values two years ago, identifying the traits and behaviors we wanted to demonstrate in the business. That led to five qualities that guide us in building the future of our company:

  • Accountable for excellence
  • Be our word
  • Committed to something bigger
  • Create with possibility
  • Seek context with intention

In doing so, we realized commitment to these core values was more important, more tangible, than any nebulous fit for culture.

Finding people who commit to values

Now during the hiring process, we use four steps to help identify if a candidate will be able to commit to these values. I think you’ll find these valuable as you review your own hiring approach:

1. First, in the early screening stages, we send candidates a document that outlines our values and values behaviors.

2. After giving them a chance to review, we ask candidates if they understand our values. In the same conversation, we ask them what resonates with them and what doesn’t, and we see if they can speak to the values in their own lives today.

3. Then we ask if they’re willing to commit themselves to embodying these values in their work.

4. And last, we check to see if they’re willing to have their performance measured on those value behaviors. In other words, we create clear agreements around what performance looks like in terms of results and the behaviors demonstrated to produce them. We then ask team members to hold themselves accountable to those performance agreements by self evaluating, and we ask leaders to do the same.

If you measure candidates by these criteria and ask team members to hold themselves accountable in this way, you’ll create an enriched and more diverse workforce, comprised of team members who clearly understand their path to success and work toward common goals.

You may also find it useful to create a scorecard that helps interviewers ask candidates for their commitment to practicing the values. This helps create consistency throughout the lifecycle of the interview process, and can be used among your interviewers to assess the candidate in a more comprehensive, yet personal way.

This shift will pay off

Beyond our hiring practices, we also deploy this shift in focusing on commitment to values in all our people programs for existing team members. For example, we weigh bonuses equally on performance to results and behaviors. We have a two-way feedback process for leaders and their direct reports to have formal conversations around both dimensions twice a year. And we empower the leadership team to grant equity to team members based on their overall performance.

We feel confident that shifting to a focus on “commitment to culture” — as opposed to “culture fit” — is impacting Pluralsight in positive ways.

One sign that our work is paying off? Pluralsight was just named to the Best Workplaces for Women 2018 list, and we also ranked ninth in the 2018 Best Small & Medium Workplaces by Great Place to Work and FORTUNE.

But even more impactful is hearing it from our people. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch the video below. In it, our team members talk about how our values show up in the way we interact with each other and in the work we do toward accomplishing our mission.

This is how we define culture today.