Have you found yourself questioning a culture-first hiring policy? Read on.

Growing up I saw many of my friends experience intense tiger parenting. I was lucky I didn’t. But I do come from a middle-class Indian background (which is quite modest compared to the more affluent British middle class), so was always taught there’s no substitute for working hard and becoming competent at whatever you choose to do. When I started working, that value translated into an ongoing pursuit of excellence in every role and project, without exception.

Cut to the spring of 2021, I was repeatedly hearing my CEO, Jane Brearley say that culture comes before competence in her hiring policy. She spoke about it passionately on external leadership platforms as well as internally when we discussed the company’s hiring needs. It sort-of sounded nice, but really didn’t sit well with my values. My inner voice said, “competence must come before everything else. Nobody should ever pay me for anything other than my ability to do a good job!”. But hey, she’s the founder of this business so, ultimately, she gets to decide how things are done.

I looked at the team around me. Firstly, it was diverse (culturally, ethnically, neurologically) and that felt refreshing. My colleagues had expertise in human rights campaigning, creative production in experiential marketing, road safety advocacy, politics and cultural studies, and theatre among others! Those aren’t necessarily backgrounds one comes across in communications professionals working with health care and pharmaceutical clients on niche projects. I had my doubts, but this concoction quickly started to reflect in the nature and quality of work we collectively produce. As a team, we are easily able to think outside the box (because we don’t fit into one type of box), we bring different perspectives to the table because of our backgrounds, and, given how rapidly the business has been growing, we are evidently different from our competition. What wasn’t immediately obvious to me was the fact that the culture first hiring policy was in play all this time.

1. Being your authentic self: It means we respect our differences, which some may not have experienced in other workplaces

2. Learning from each other: We are regularly reminded that someone on the team might know a LOT about a topic that others may know nothing about

3. There’s room for everyone at the table: We’re not a house of type As, nor do we say, “yes, boss!” without thought and discussion

It doesn’t come without its challenges. For instance, I have found myself spending several days trying to help a colleague understand and perform a task that I could have done myself in two hours. And it occurs to me we could have hired another person specifically for that skill I’m trying to teach. But does it automatically mean they’d have added more value to the business? I’ve learned that’s not necessarily true. Finding the right fit for culture is much harder. And as far as my time is concerned, I remember my manager from 2011 – who had 20 years on me – who sat with me and corrected every comma in my first client report. If he could do it because he saw something in me, if Jane can take a punt and hire people based on their values and the spark she spots in them, then I surely can do it too. It doesn’t mean I am compromising on the values I grew up with, but I am surely looking beyond, and valuing qualities that I knew less about at that time.

#culture #communications #leadership #IntentHealth