I had a chat today with @JohnSumser about company culture. John said that there is a problem with vocabulary when discussing culture because it can refer to temperament, personal style or company size and structure.
A lot has been written about company size and candidate fit.
Here's Jessica Mintz in The Wall Street Journal:
While entrepreneurs might be tempted to hire candidates with big-business credentials, they're rarely a good fit. "There are rules, regulations and processes to do everything" in a big company, says Mr. Marshall. "In a start-up, there are no set jobs. Everyone does everything." Start-ups should be looking for flexible candidates who are used to smaller environments.
Big Company people are not universally bad for startups. In fact, you’ll never grow your startup without them. But lots of them are not the right hire for your startup.
Your Big Company candidate ought to be squirming with impatience in their current environment. They want their ideas to be implemented faster. They want to stop with the extensive analysis and start experimenting. They crave doing things vs. talking about them and planning them for next year.
Here's Devon McDonald quoting Mark Suster on the Openview blog
BigCo reps.... may be used to relying on a steady stream of quality inbound leads and find it too difficult to build a solid pipeline without them. But even those with plenty of success hunting for their own deals may find it’s a different story when they don’t have the instant authority and credibility of a big company logo on their side.
And here's Mark Suster on his Both Sides of the Table blog
Early stage selling is way more “evangelical” than process driven. That means you’re more often than not trying to get customers to realize they actually have a problem versus their already having budget assigned for a system in your category.
If you hire that person straight from a sales academy they will be hugely frustrated that you don’t have pricing sheets, high quality sales collateral, a well-oiled sales process integrated into Salesforce.com and a clear sense of why customers should buy your product.
Culture Is a Complex Package
Note that Suster changes topics. He's still talking about small companies but not an organizational issue. He's talking about different sales skills: selling a new product versus an established one.
You can call the lack of admin support and the need for a specific kind of sales skill part of the culture of a start-up. But your meaning will be clear only if it's understood that culture refers to a package of issues that are related but still distinct.
The sophisticated person will know that a start-up includes people who have an informal personal style, are temperamentally enthusiastic, who like to experiment, who can sell new products, and are willing to work long hours without any admin support.
But, unless you are clued in to the full checklist of its elements, when someone uses the term "company culture", you are going to find it confusing. I do and I believe that most people who use the term do not have a fully articulated idea of its meaning in their own minds.
I'm No Sherlock Holmes
Well, she's been talking a lot about paying for education. And listeners are tweeting about investing in employees. And when they say that these things build a strong company culture I think they mean what I would call a strong team spirit. People are engaged. They are happy working at the company, they think it's a good place and do not want to leave.
So, that's a part of company culture, too. But, as I said, you have to be well-informed to get it. And, maybe that's my problem. Perhaps, I'm not.
But, look, I run a recruiting radio show and I remember asking Donato Diorio, a very smart CEO and former recruiter about his company's culture. And, you know what he said? "Work hard, play hard?". And, maybe that means it's a good term for sloppy talk but has little practical value.
Culture In Recruiting
On the other hand, I've long been impressed by the idea that a paleontologist can find the footprint of a dinosaur and know what the entire creature must have looked like. Or, an archeologist can find one tool in a pile of sand and know a lot about the community it came from.
Some things are necessarily tied together. So, if you know one thing about a company, it can imply a lot. That means, in recruiting, maybe you only have to know a few things about a company and search on that basis to find a cultural fit. For instance, someone coming from the public sector doesn't usually fit into the private sector and vice versa. I know it's simple things like these we talk about when someone mentions culture. Nothing more. As you can see, however, from what Cindy Alvarez says above, crude generalizations while often meaningful can lead you to miss out on individuals who are misfits in their current companies who could be good hires for you.