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May 17, 2013

“The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress.” — Charles Kettering

There’s been a lot written lately about “cultural fit.” In fact, you could say that cultural fit is the latest rage in talent acquisition.

In an article in the American Sociological Review, Northwestern Professor Lauren Rivera concludes that companies are making hiring decisions today “in a manner more closely resembling the choice of friends or romantic partners.”

The 4 most asked interview questions

Glassdoor collected 285,000 questions asked by hiring managers. In 2012, the following were the top four asked. Note that they have nothing to do with skills, accomplishments or experience.

  1. What’s your favorite movie?
  2. What’s your favorite website?
  3. What’s the last book you read for fun?
  4. What makes you uncomfortable?

Cultural fit is important, but I would propose that it has its limits.

Here is a case where cultural fit is carried to the extreme. A manager says the best way to get cultural fit is:

Hire lots of relatively inexperienced people. You can indoctrinate people who grow up in your culture more easily than people who grew up in someone else’s company culture. Inexperienced people make up for inexperience with enthusiasm, and often don’t have much of a life.”

Sounds like brainwashing to me!

Most important factors for success

Lets look at a very important attribute that is being overlooked. It is one CEOs are very focused on right now — innovation.

In a Global CEO Survey conducted by IBM, CEOs identified “creativity” or “innovation” as the most important factor for the successful company of the future.

Although CEOs believe innovation is important, many struggle to implement it because they’re afraid. And the more successful the company, the greater the fear.

The tendency is to hold on to the past –to believe that what made a company successful up to this point will continue to make it successful in the future. Psychologists tell us this is human nature: People fear the unknown.

Sticking with the status quo may have been fine when the world moved at a much slower pace. But in today’s hyper-paced business environment, it is no longer a good excuse. To change quickly in today’s business world, you need to hire innovators — and innovators, by definition, question the status quo.

In her book The Innovation Killer, Cynthia Barton Rabe says that companies and employees rely on “what we know” and “the way we do things here.”

What keeps companies from innovating

But progress demands change. How is it accomplished? Who will take responsibility for an unorthodox decision? Who will be willing to stand up and say that the emperor has no clothes?

Rabe says there are two basic barriers that keep companies from innovating:

  1. “GroupThink” is following the herd — being a “yes man.” When employees are sitting in a room with 10 people they have to work with every day, it becomes very difficult not to go along with the group.
  2. “ExpertThink” is GroupThink on steroids. It’s the tendency to make decisions based on the opinions of experts. People don’t question experts. They have a healthy respect for them and believe them 100 percent.

Innovators question authority and assumptions. They do things differently. They think differently. They are able to connect ideas in strange and unexpected ways that are unexpected and very valuable to the company. Voicing a different opinion is not a sign that innovators are not “team players.”

Finding innovation takes more work

The downside is that working with innovators slows things down when questions are asked that generate a lot of discussion. Research shows that a team of people that are diverse in some way take longer to arrive at a conclusion than a team that is “homogenous.” But the end result is much better because of all the different ideas and ways of seeing things that are discussed.

Identifying and attracting innovators takes extra work. But the reward when you do find them is that they will end up being some of your most valuable employees.

So go ahead and keep asking job candidates all those silly questions — What’s your favorite movie? What’s your favorite book? If you could be an animal which one would you be?

But listen to the answers a little more closely. And when you hear an answer you’ve never heard before, pay close attention. You just may have found yourself an innovator!

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