Podcast #30 Cultural Fit — Does it exist or does it develop over time?
In itnig’s Podcast #30 Jordi Romero, CEO at Factorial speaks with César Migueláñez, Product Director at Factorial, Roger Dobaño, Product Manager at Quipu and Bettina Gross, Talent Acquisition about the concept of cultural fit.
Roger talks about the evolution of culture inside Quipu’s team, the selection process for open positions and we see examples of culture rendered transparent at PayPal, Facebook and Rebooth.
How did the culture at Quipu evolve?
We started almost 5 years, we were 2 people working inside of itnig very closely and we have grown to be a team of more than 20 team members, with one general managers and big changes in the organization. There are big cultural differences from the beginning to today.
What differences do you see?
In the beginning, we had very little experience and our founders’ personalities marked the culture of the initial team. In small teams you influence the culture directly but as the team grows, as you install levels of management it becomes a task to maintain the initial enthusiasm as the company grows. I think there were basically two phases at Quipu: When we were about 10 people, young people with a lot of energy, we shared a lot, not just work but also our private lives. Then there is a second time, when the company has become more professional, growing form 10 to 20 people, new departments like Sales.
The first contact a new employee at Quipu has is a talk with me, Roger, talking about our culture, our history and our plans for the future. I think it’s important that the first contact be a kind of anchor for this person — if you have any question, I am here for you.
What do you talk about in two hours on the first days of a new team member? How to refer to company culture?
There are two main things: First, a retrospective and then a basic guideline on how we solve problems. And then of course depending on the person and his/her future position I focus on the team and challenges ahead.
Do you believe the cultural fit is made or exists? Does a personal develop it within the team or come with a predetermined cultural fit?
I would say more than cultural fit, it’s about values. What do we share as group of humans? What are our underlying shared beliefs and values? And I think in this sense it’s something you have innate in you when you join a team or not but also something that develops over time.
If you think of culture, you can also take the example of migration. You move to a new country, the culture is different, but I still believe that you can become part of the group, of the society.
It’s interesting you say that Bettina. You actually come from a different cultural background, you did not grow up here in Spain or Barcelona and you’ve become part of the local culture. Do you think the differences become shorter over time?
Yes, I believe the distance becomes shorter. Maybe it’s just my own ideal or my own illusion but I think you can integrate in a new culture.
You believe you can overcome this distance?
Yes, if not I think I would not be living here.
You spoke about values — During interviews in the selection process, or even in employer branding when writing job offers, do you use values to describe the company?
Yes, at least that’s something we try and it’s something we have been speaking about a lot. How do different part of the team interact, should people from other teams be involved in the selection process. It does not have to be the founder who’s involved if in terms of values we are all aligned.
Even though a person from another team might not be able to assess the professional skills, he/she can still detect if there is a kind of cultural fit or not.
Cultural fit which for me is an important pieces, just as important as the professional talent of the person.
When we try to explain our culture, which is really hard, culture of the company is like DNA, changing constantly, adapting. Our initial culture is a part of Cesar, Bernat, Pau and me and that’s where we got our values from. We all sat together and each told their version of the story. When the first person joined our team we told him clearly that he is going to expand our culture. We are aligned at the base but he joins and expands our culture. And it’s the same for the 20th team member who actually joined us this week. He expands our culture just as much as the first person did.
I think this is very important that you talk about expanding. Sometimes the idea of cultural fit is also scares me, it may imply a fixed set of behavior, a group that is homogeneous and either you fit in or not. Especially in small structures like a startup I think it’s important to have somebody from outside, with another way of thinking and the ability to doubt or question.
Roger: My approach is not about saying this is how it is but more than anything about how we solve problems. I think we need a connection between humans who feel good around each other and can work together well. We had a person with us at Quipu who was very important for our culture and our group and even though she left her spirit and attitude are still with us today.
Bettina, you worked at PayPal some years ago, a US company and you were working in Berlin. What was the culture like for you? How did they transmit the company culture? Did you have contact with a very senior person explaining the beginning and history to you?
When I started I had a training of one or two weeks focussed on what it meant to be a PayPalian — there were even tests to make sure we were following. It’s an interesting way. The culture is always given from above, that’s clear, but to have it in paper (or well a software), is a whole different levels. There were a lot of rules but I think this was also positive. When you start somewhere new, those rules help you understand what the group expects of you and what you can contribute, whereas when you ‘swimming in uncertainty’ it is hard to find your place.
After the two weeks, what’s next? Do you get feedback? Do you hear you don’t fit in?
No, this I think was already clear from the selection process. But there were many follow-ups, like monthly meetings with teams, HR teams and senior teams. This was really helpful for me especially because it was my first job after leaving university — where do I see myself? How do I want to evolve?
I liked that you mentioned these two weeks of training. Actually at Facebook they have a small red book, The Facebook Way, that includes values. It’s the bible of why you are here and how we do things.
What kind of question do you see acceptable to find out if a person might be a good cultural fit or not?
I think you have to be cautious in terms of profiling. I think all questions should be acceptable if they serve an understandable purpose. For example you asking about technology used at home to find out if the person is ‘techy’. The goal was to find out if the person is ‘techy’ and not if he/she uses Mac or Windows but it can still be critical.
Well yes it’s always tricky, I think you have to find a way to create a conversation, because you will be in the position where one party scrutinizes the other.
Jordi, and you at Redbooth, a company founded here in Europe that suddenly comes to have a management team from the Us. How did that go?
Actually at Redbooth the concept of cultural shock took a different turn because I actually think we had two cultures. With a basis of Spanish or European culture we flew to San Francisco and set up an office there with people who had grown up in the US culture. Adn we left. So the company had a way of doing more or less US but a team from Silicon Valley ambitious, powerful and aggressive. We spoke different languages — two people who tried to do the bridge between San Francisco and Barcelona. We tried but in the end we were not able to understand each other.
An example: At some point in time we had a high churn rate and we set this as a priority to tackle. In Barcelona we wanted to all get together, create posters, a roadmap, to celebrate together but from the US direction, where our CEO was, the guideline was to make a Churn Bounty. The individual person who does xy, gets xY Euro. like the hunger games against churn but one agains the other.
In the end the company kept these two cultures, both in their ways, but without meeting midways. We tried to translate but it was not an integration.
And now, with a bit of distance. Do you see anything you could have done to create this integration between the two cultures?
I don’t believe in the concept of creating a company here, hiring a person there and working in two centers. I think the only way of creating a structure in the US in this example would have been moving a part of the core team to the US, staying for 3 years and not months and from there creating the US team. It’s really hard to transmit your ways of doing if you are not aware of them yourself — we were a young team, very inexperienced in leadership and communication. So it was all very implicit.
Thinking of this, how was it for you Cesar, to join Factorial when Jordi and Bernat and Pau had already known each other for a long time?
Good. I already knew Bernat well before we started Factorial but the other I got to know while working. I did not have much time to think about the culture either, we were so focussed on creating the first product. The compatibility of the personality formed our culture. It was very organic in the end.
And has it happened to you that a person, even though technically or professionally perfect fit with the team, ended up leaving because he/she was not able to connect with the group?
Yes, and it’s bad for both parties. If you are not collaborating well or not feeling well in the team it’s impossible to work together. You cannot add anything to the company if you are not feeling well.
Maybe that’s it the culture fit — that you feel good about where you are.
Yes, and you have to realize it quickly.
Now that we have Quipu and Factorial here, do you think there is a common culture among startups?
Yes, actually it’s also something I look for when interviewing candidates. Startup experience per se is professionally completely irrelevant but it teaches you what we expect from you, what we want to achieve, how we work towards it. I think it is another way of doing business it is underlying in most startups. A small structure where we are inventing something every day, no structures, no certainties — I think the strength it takes to do this transpires to all team members.
Listen to our podcast to learn more about Factorial and Quipu’s ideas on cultural fit. Learn more in this Podcast in Spanish on our Youtube channel, listen to it on iTunes or enjoy it through iVoox and subscribe to our newsletter to stay always up to date.