Hiring the best fit

Menno van Dijk
February 16th, 2017
Article by: Menno van Dijk
Hiring the best fit

This article has been adapted from Originals by Adam Grant.


When a founder/CEO creates her organization, what hiring model does she have in mind?  Specifically, should she attract people predominantly based on deep skills, or based on highest future potential or based on cultural fit?  It really depends on her ambition level.


When the goal is to create a new company successfully, a culture fit is by far the superior model for success. Culture fit means having the same passions and goals, strong emotional bonds and a strong sense of belonging and cohesiveness. There is strong commitment and emotional bonds among employees and to the organization. In case of strong cultural fit, it is hard for the employees to imagine working anywhere else. This becomes a commitment to pull the growing enterprise out of thick mud and through thin ice.


Commitment cultures tend to falter over time, no matter how fruitful they were in the early stages of the organization’s life. It gives startups a better chance of survival but eventually peters out growth rates. One reason why is that as they attract, select, socialize, and retain similar people, effectively weeding out diversity in thoughts and values. In volatile settings like digital and Internet industries, the benefits of strong cultures disappear. Once a market becomes dynamic, companies with strong cultures prove too insular.

When the goal is to create a new company successfully, a culture fit is by far the superior model for success. Click To Tweet

One might think that the safe strategy is to start with a commitment culture and then shift to another model, adding more emphasis on specialist skills and growth potential. Although this seems like a natural solution, it’s not effective. Changing the model is both difficult and dangerous. And here’s the kicker: the negative effects of change are most pronounced for firms with a commitment model.

In the book Scaling Up, Verne Hamish is to not carried away with the commitment model. In his view, you need a team of absolute specialists to achieve your ambitious goals.  The learning curve for well-rounded specialists is simply too long and too steep in today’s fast and complex world. This is why we encourage leaders to look for “idiot savants” (defined as people who are enormously talented at one particular thing and possibly quite bad at others).  Teams need to be well rounded, but the individuals needn’t be.  Leaders do not always grasp this, which explains why traditional “feel-good” interviews have such a high failure rate. If you hire people most like yourself, you end up with a company of look-alikes instead of tapping the diversity of talent, backgrounds and personalities needed to drive a fruitful debate, innovation and differentiation that powers growth.

Those founders who hire for deep skills give their employees autonomy and challenging tasks. Those with the commitment model in mind worked to build a strong sense of emotional togetherness and team camaraderie, a seemingly solid case that in the long run is as unstable as if built on sand.

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