Breaking the mould of company culture

In this guest feature Steve McElfresh, PhD, SVP of People at Duo Security explains the value in breaking the mould of company culture. Read on to find out how diligence around hiring can lead to complimentary additions to organisations and avoid groupthink.

Most companies have a very specific idea of what they want out of a new hire. Alongside obvious requirements of experience and skill sets, this profile often extends to include personality, mindset, and even personal interests. In many cases, organisations are primarily interested in finding people who fit the established typecast of the company’s values and company culture.

It’s understandable that many companies fall into this approach, and it can bring some benefits. Businesses are often proud of the company culture they developed and are keen to maintain this. However, it can also lead to new hires failing to bring their whole, unique self to the role. Too often, unintended consequences include quashing innovation and creativity.

See also: Embedding Diversity in the Organisation

The value of atypical perspectives

From the very beginning, Duo decided to not hire for culture fit and instead focused on culture contribution – seeking out complementary skill sets and atypical perspectives and experiences.

80 per cent of Duo team members come from outside the security industry. We have coders, filmmakers, teachers, builders, skaters, painters, designers, and more, creating a diverse group united by a shared belief in adding value to the world.

This diversity has created a more empathic approach and a wide (sometimes contentious!) array of perspectives, both of which help us to find new, innovative solutions to complex business and security challenges.

Challenging company culture

Organisations often put a lot of focus on their company culture, particularly in the technology sector; many of the leading companies place almost as much emphasis on their culture as on their actual capabilities and output.

This emphasis extends to their hiring practices. Duo, instead of ensuring all new hires are a perfect match for our existing culture, uses a cultural contribution framework to encourage people to come to the table with what makes them special. By respecting that everyone has something different to offer, we can challenge the way we think and help bring individual talents and perspectives to the forefront.

One question we ask every potential hire is “what makes you unique?” to see what we might learn from them. Companies should seek to understand what motivates individuals, what makes them stand out, and where they are hoping to grow.

See also: Agility through diversity

Going beyond skill

All businesses require certain sets of core skills and competencies to operate and thrive. As a security company, certain key technical skills are necessary for engineering, research and product roles. However, other business areas are ripe with opportunity to bring in outsiders. Even in engineering, we have had great success with early career candidates who evidence great technical grasp and flexibility – but have no experience in security.

Organisations must strike a balance between matching essential competencies to key roles and exploring larger talent pools with varied experiences and skill sets. Indeed, many organisations fail to see that the contributions of a candidate with excellent (even if generic) skills and a growth mindset can quickly surpass those of someone with who “checks all the boxes” of purely technical specs.

We also believe there needs to be a balance between IQ and EQ (emotional intelligence), and you can not sacrifice one for the other. It is just as important that a team member works effectively on the team and bonds with their colleagues, as it is for them to possess technical aptitude.

Break the mould to gain competitive advantage

All business sectors include people – and organisations – with institutionalised ways of thinking, stemming from behaviours learned over long periods of time. This becomes more prevalent the older the industry but is evident even in a relatively new area like cybersecurity. These fixed mindsets and methods develop because they have been valuable over many years. However, they often lead to stagnation in growth and creativity, particularly when markets shift and technologies change. This is the central concept of the wildly influential business book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, which was first published in 1997 and is still considered a ‘must read’ for leaders in all industries.

Having an outsider’s perspective, along with talent and experience from different sectors and backgrounds, can help the company discover new ways of thinking. This can deliver a powerful competitive advantage by boosting the organisation’s creativity and helping it to develop new solutions to old problems.

The ability to design something different within a pre-existing framework is the very definition of disruption. This will help the company from a brand and product perspective, and also from a people and culture standpoint. With this mindset, diversity moves beyond being HR-centric, encouraging diversity and inclusion across the business and the way in which it addresses its markets.

See also: The ROI of accessibility

Steve McElfresh

Steve McElfresh has been the CEO of two management consulting organizations, Chief HR Officer for three technology companies, and a university professor. He has earned a JD and a PhD in social/organizational...

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