The death of a company can mean closing the doors and going out of business. It can mean merging with another company and having its identity subsumed. It can also mean the culture of a company has changed so much that it no longer resembles the original vision.

The dying of a culture is more subtle than closing the doors or a hostile takeover, yet no less important. It means that the original reason for a company’s existence has either been lost entirely or changed so much that the company has lost its essence.

This happens far more often than we may realize. In fact it’s actually the norm for companies with significant growth trajectories. The reason is simple: hiring to fill positions for the purpose of meeting the needs of a growing company.

“If all we’re doing is hiring based on past accomplishments and credentials then we are throwing culture to the wind.”

It seems logical enough that when a company grows that we need to hire more people. The challenge is not in the need to hire more people, but rather in the way we go about it. If we strive to fill positions of need by looking at resumes, credentials, and years of experience then we are overlooking the single most important reason to hire a person: that a candidate authentically cares about and connects with our vision.

If all we’re doing is hiring based on past accomplishments and credentials then we are throwing culture to the wind and will end up with a hodgepodge team of individuals with varying values and intentions. Some will be ladder climbers more intent on the progress of their careers than the health of the company. Some will be job hoppers who jump ship right before their lacking people skills begin to catch up with them. Some will be megalomaniacs or drama addicts. Some will just not see the vision of the company. And, then some will truly care.

“The hiring process is the moat that surrounds our culture.”

Picking the ones who truly care is easy when we hire from the heart, feeling our way through the interviews, asking open-ended questions and measuring how we feel about a person, more so than how impressed we are by their dossier.

The hiring process is the moat that surrounds our culture. If we protect our culture as though it is a treasured possession then we will dig our moat deep and wide, consisting of a multi-step process of measuring potential teammates by who they are, what gets them get excited, what their values are, and how they want to leave the world when their time is up.

That could look like hiring committees consisting of a cross section of the company who measure the cultural fit of each candidate. It could mean hiring people without experience in our industry because of the passion they have and their ability to communicate it. It could mean saying no to candidates who seem insanely perfect for the job based on credentials, but are simply not a good fit for the culture. It could mean many things, but most importantly, it means that we get that culture is paramount to our success, not just monetarily, but to the success of our vision.

Protecting and nurturing culture means we don’t just build a company with a healthy bottom line—it means we build a legacy. It also means our vision will live on.

Tip of the Week

The first step to preventing the death of a company by cultural drift is to carefully define the culture. That means establishing core values that both leadership and team alike feel they are fully behind, and that are authentic expressions of who the company is. So if you haven’t yet established your core values, now is the time. Even if you are freelancer or one-woman shop, establishing your core values is still of paramount importance. Take time to write them and make them personal, not what you think other people think they should be or how they should sound, but the values that feel like you (you as in you, or you as in the company). Write them as a team, mull over them, come back to them in a week, read them again and keep asking yourself if they are authentic representations of who you are. Take your time with this, as they will guide your company for years to come.