Interviewing for "Culture Fit" with Rory Verrett
Intro: Welcome to The Daily Bolster. Each day, we welcome transformational executives to share their real world experiences and practical advice about scaling yourself, your team, and your business.
Matt Blumberg: I am Matt Blumberg. I'm the founder and CEO of Bolster, and I am excited to be here today with Rory Verett. Rory is the founder and CEO of boutique executive search firm, Protégé Search. Prior to that, he's worked at a bunch of other major executive search firms during his career and, for a few years, was also the head of talent for the National Football League, the NFL, which I'm sure there's a great question in there for maybe another podcast, Rory. Rory is also a member of our board of directors at Bolster. Welcome to The Daily Bolster, Rory.
Rory Verett: Happy to be here. Thank you for having me.
Matt Blumberg: Yeah, I am excited about this topic. Our topic today is what does it mean to interview for a cultural fit? And I'll start this off by just saying I know a lot of CEOs, including me, quite frankly, that I feel like the number one thing I'm interviewing for when I'm interviewing someone for a job is cultural fit. Because I feel like the interview, the recruiting process will produce people who are capable of doing the job and I want to make sure we bring someone into the organization that shares our values and is going to mesh well with the team. Is that a good practice, a bad practice? Is there a way to do it?
Rory Verett: Yes. I think your instincts and intentions are right, but there are two things that I think you should be mindful of. Number one, CEOs are not the best arbiters of what the culture is because-
Matt Blumberg: That's really interesting, so -
Rory Verett: At startups, the CEO is often the founder and people tend to walk delicately around the founder. They may walk on eggshells. There may be a culture that is unintended from what the CEO wants. I don't think I know what the culture is in our firm. I think I know what I want it to be, but how we actually operate and what makes us successful, I don't think maybe I know that so well.
Matt Blumberg: Fascinating. Okay. How do you think an organization can best interview for cultural fit? I'll come back and ask the other question is, what should a CEO be interviewing for?
Rory Verett: Yeah. I think you use leadership competencies. To keep it simple, you ask everyone in the organization, " How do we operate? What are the leadership criteria, the behaviors people need to exhibit to be successful here? Is it all hands on deck?" Managing through crisis, we make decisions with the rigorous analysis of data. We are always honest, even brutally so. There are some values that govern cultures. I think you need to spell them out and then interview against that. Ask the candidate. " We are a data- driven company. We make decisions on the rigorous analysis of data. Tell me how you've done that."
Matt Blumberg: Okay. That's interesting. So most companies do have values. They're stated usually on the company's website. Let's say we're confusing the topic of culture and values and we want to focus on values and making sure that we're interviewing people for fit with values. Do you think a founder CEO can do that or do you think that's also difficult?
Rory Verett: Yes, I think a founder can do it, but I think it's important to have a person or a set of people that can stress test their assumptions. You come out of an interview and you say, " I just interviewed Jamal. I thought he was extraordinary, but I have a concern about this because he said X, Y, and Z. Person one, two, and three, what do you think about that?" Get a jury. Get a chorus of people that can test your instincts and don't go at it alone.
Matt Blumberg: Interesting. Do you suggest that a company define that at the beginning of an interview process? They define roles? " Okay, there's six of us interviewing this candidate. You talk about this value, you talk about that value."
Rory Verett: Absolutely.
Matt Blumberg: Do you think that at least one person is focused on values and other people are focused on functional competencies?
Rory Verett: I think every interview should be a mixture of functional competencies and values. I think then you wind up getting at the issue of culture, I think. When you put that all in a big gumbo pot and you go with a little bit of your head and your heart, you typically make the right decision. But I think it's important for founders, CEOs not to make every decision unilaterally. Get another set of eyes and ears on what you've seen and heard to give you another perspective.
Matt Blumberg: What do you think can go wrong with an interview process when it is focused on culture or even if it's just focused on values? What can go wrong in terms of bias and adding bias into an interview process unintentionally?
Rory Verett: You could find out that the person is not someone you might like socially. They may be politically from a completely different part of the spectrum. They may be much more religious than you are. They may be much more or much less patriotic than you are. They may be from a part of the country where you've never been and you have your own bias. I heard somebody, a friend of mine, say, " I hate interviewing people from the South. I hate the way they talk." I'm from the South. I was like, " How can you say that?" " Well, no. You don't have an accent." I said, " I do have an accent." I think those things can creep in. They could be a person that would work well in your culture, would be functionally expert, but you may not like them at first. I don't know how important that is to someone with the data points you get out of an interview.
Matt Blumberg: But how do you root that out? Even if you say, " Hey, all I'm going to do is interview against values and interview against functional competencies." That doesn't really get to that point of the old" do you want to have a beer?" with the person. Right?
Rory Verett: Mm- hmm.
Matt Blumberg: What's the-
Rory Verett: I think-
Matt Blumberg: Yeah.
Rory Verett: I think it's important, again, to have another set of eyes and ears to be vulnerable with the people around you, especially the folks in the bunker with you in a startup to say, " I have these misgivings about someone and here's why I have these misgivings." Let someone be a blank slate against that. They may say, " Hey, you always have a bias about people from the South. Remember Johnny that we interviewed? You didn't like him either. You might not remember that you dissed John because he was from Mississippi or something." Somebody that's been with you for a while or been in the company for a while might be able to, again, stress test your assumptions and provide a reality check.
Matt Blumberg: All right. This is great, Rory. I'm going to sum up my three learnings from this. Number one, interview against specific values, not vaguely against culture. Number two, don't focus on likability and" do you want to have a beer?" with the person. Number three, have lots of eyes and ears on an interview process, not just you as the founder and CEO. That sounds right?
Rory Verett: Absolutely summed up. Perfect. Absolutely.
Matt Blumberg: All right. Rory, thank you for being one of our first guests on The Daily Bolster.
Rory Verett: It was a blast. Thank you.
What does it mean to interview for culture fit? How should CEOs and leaders go about doing it—and is there a better way?
Rory Verrett is the founder and managing partner of Protégé Search, the leading retained search and leadership advisory firm focused on diverse talent. In today’s episode, he and Matt discuss why CEOs are not always the best arbiters of company culture, then dive into what it means to look for specific values throughout the interview process, rather than the vague concept of a culture fit.