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Why You Shouldn’t Hire For Culture Fit with Brett Putter

Do you recruit for ‘culture fit’? If you do, then you’re wasting your time, says Bretton Putter,  author and CEO of CultureGene, a culture development, consultancy and software business.

“My vision is to help millions of people lead better work lives by changing culture globally. And my mission is to help change culture development into a critical business function in the way that sales and marketing are.”

Brett is a self-declared reformed recruiter, who saw the light when he was doing executive search for some CEOs who really got culture in their businesses. 

They made him hire based on behaviours, and while it wasn’t something he was initially keen to do, he saw how effective it was – hiring great employees into a business that was clear on its culture, and has since built a business based on the idea that as a CEO, your company’s culture is your only source of sustainable competitive advantage. 

On today’s podcast:

  • How to nail down a company’s values
  • Culture Decks Decoded came out of failure
  • The company culture decks he admires
  • How to hire for values 
  • Why culture fit is his bugbear
  • How to embed culture into your business
  • How COVID-19 has shown holes in company culture


Brett Putter hasn’t always been obsessed with company culture. For him it started about 5 years ago when he was tasked by three consecutive CEOs, who had very clear understandings of their company culture, to find candidates who not only had the requisite skills and experience, but who matched the company’s values too. 

“The results with those three companies were significantly better over time, that we saw both in terms of value added to the culture that the candidates brought and, you know, outcome and results.”

But hiring candidates who match the company values is incredibly hard. It’s hard enough to find great candidates as it is, and then add in that they have to have the same values as the company too? 

“And it took us a long time to get our heads around that. But once we got it right, it just changed the game. If you understood the values and the value drivers of the company and of the leadership, you could find candidates with those value drivers. And you would see that connection happen during the interview process.”

Understanding culture in big companies

After realising how successful value matching was, Brett began researching the culture in big companies, to find out how the giants did it. He interviewed CEOs and leaders to understand how they built their culture, and then started researching and digging deeper into the subject. 

And what stood out for him in his research? 

“What surprised me? It’s how some cultures, you know, some companies use the same words for their values. But actually, if you start to dig below the surface, how different those companies are.”

Brett’s favourite company cultures

The Netflix culture deck 

Netflix has a culture similar to a pro sports team. They pay top dollar and they tell candidates that they pay top dollar. As such, they encourage their employees to go for interviews to see if they still pay top dollar. And if there’s a difference in that person’s salary somewhere else, they’ll pay it. And they say this very specifically in their deck. They want the best people, and they’ll happily pay for them.

Patreon culture deck

Patreon communicates that they’re a caring company and that this applies to all people, from the people they help, to the people they serve. Their culture deck demonstrates how their desire to serve permeates through the whole company.

Valve Corporation

Valve’s culture deck is not really a culture deck, says Brett, it’s more of a manifesto. It’s more like writing and reads like a book. It’s packed full of humour and the company culture comes across beautifully. They admit that their company culture is radically different from any other – that there isn’t a structure at all, in fact, the company is unstructured, and if you’re the type of person who needs structure, you’re not going to fit in with them.

How to hire for values 

So how do you hire for values? Do you make your initial search values based? Or do you sift for values after you’ve whittled candidates down following a skills search?

First you develop behaviour based questions. Then you interview for culture. You split the interview into two parts – the first focusing on knowledge and skills, the second half is a values based interview session. 

And don’t hire based on the culture that you have today (that changes on a daily basis), hire for cultural enhancement. 

“You want to hire people who are better, you know, their behaviours, the strength of those behaviours is better than the average you already have. Otherwise, you’re sort of deliberately diluting your culture.”

Why you can’t hire for culture fit

Brett says it’s impossible to hire for culture fit. 

“It doesn’t matter which company you are, you don’t know what your culture is because your culture is this random collection of good and bad behaviours, habits, communication styles, rituals, routines, processes and systems that are changing all the time. So if you try to hire for culture fit you’re trying to hire for my interpretation or our small group interpretation of our culture, and we don’t actually know what it is.”

So define your values, define the expected behaviours to see for those values and hire for value fit. Culture changes daily or weekly. Values tend to stand the test of time. 

Hire for values, not culture fit

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