Words & Sports

The NFL Draft and Finding People to Fit Into Your Corporate Culture

Businesses, like an NFL team, have their ways to find individuals to fit their corporate culture

The NFL Draft has become quite the spectacle. The hype, the rumors, the talent, the show. All of it is about finding not only an incredible talent but talent that will mesh well with a team’s culture. Either the successful culture a team has or the culture they want to create. That’s why teams analyze players up and down. Not just their mechanics, skills, and statistics. But their attitude, their character, and their behavior–on the field and off the field.

In previous drafts, we have seen player’s drop down a teams’ draft boards because of new information that leaked before the draft. In 2018 one player (Josh Allen of Wyoming) had old tweets (from Twitter) brought to the top where he had some not so nice things to say about people. These tweets were from Allen’s days in high school. Teams have to take in that information and make a decision that’s best for them. 

The specifics of what was said or what caused a player to drop down the draft rankings are not the point here, the issue is the importance of character, in sports and in business. Who you hire as a small business owner means everything, especially in a small company where the impact of one person on corporate culture is that much greater.

How do you find people with good character? How do you figure if that person you will hire will fit your corporate culture?

There are analytical ways to do this–from testing to interviewing but let’s bring it down to a simplistic level. Here are 5 questions to ask yourself when finding a candidate to fit into your company culture.

1. What does your gut say about the individual in question

This is easier than it sounds. Some people believe in their gut feeling and some people don’t. Regardless where you fall, it’s important to stay true to what your gut feeling is. How do you know if candidate “A” will fit with your team and your corporate culture? There’s no evidence, just a gut feeling. Now, not everyone’s feelings about a person are reliable, and nobody can be right all the time, but with experience—and with taking chances (or not taking chances) and seeing what happens, you develop a sense of people. In other words, over time you learn how to make a gut decision.

I’ve been through this just like you have I am sure. Something just tells you candidate “A” is not a fit, but there’s something about candidate “A” that you value so you overlook what your gut tells you. Perhaps they can sell–an important need for many. But maybe they rub most people the wrong way both internally and externally. But you need revenue. So you hire them only to find out later the damage they caused by “rubbing people the wrong way” was greater than the revenue they generated. Plus if you run a relationship business, a sales representative not fitting into the culture could cost you revenue. That’s a lose-lose situation!

Perhaps you learn that you don’t have the quality of properly judging others (in a hiring way) and you learn to defer to someone who does. Talent can be measured and talent is important, but the best test of the immeasurables is still that feeling that this person is going to be good. And not just good, but a quality person—a person of character.

2. What was your first impression

The candidate walks into your office. You get to look at the individual for the first time, shake their hand, look in their eyes, pay attention to how they present themselves and how they talk–it’s all part of building a first impression. What does this person like to talk about? Do they have confidence? Do they interrupt? Did they do their homework? Do they speak well of others, put people down, or just talk about themselves as much as possible? 

I remember meeting a candidate. They waited for me in the conference room. When I got there, the person did not come over to greet me, they did not remove their jacket (winter coat), they did not stand up, and the individual never shook my hand (was it something I did?!). Not a good start. When we started talking, I could barely hear what they said. Now I didn’t let the first impression get in the way of an important decision. Perhaps he was having a bad day, perhaps he was nervous. Who knows? So we had him back and while it was better, it was not a fit. The point is, while your first impression is not the end all be all, it certainly can get you really close to making a decision.

First impressions aren’t always reliable. But you can still learn a lot about a person from the signals you pick up in the first few seconds and the first few minutes of that first meeting. The information you gather is part of the overall puzzle of getting to know someone. And getting to know them gives you a better chance of making the right call for your corporate culture.

3. How does the candidate handle the roller coaster ride

Life and business can be somewhat of a roller coaster ride. If possible, watch how the candidate handles the ups and downs. Someone who over-celebrates might simply be exuberant (which is fine), but might also turn out to be boastful and self-absorbed—or simply irrationally optimistic, which can cause problems, too. On the other hand, someone who over-reacts to set-backs might lack the drive and resilience you need. Maybe a candidate who blames others a lot has been treated badly. It happens. Or maybe this person just doesn’t like accountability.

Don’t go making assumptions based on one or two incidents. We all have our days. You’re not a psychoanalyst (likely). But over time, how a person reacts to both successes and failures can tell you a lot about their character.

You can ask about the ups and downs and how they handled it. But chances are you won’t get a real answer. If they lost a sale and broke a computer as a result, there’s a good chance the candidate won’t share that information with you. But maybe you can get real with them. Share your own stories, make them feel comfortable–go deeper than just surface questions.

You need someone that can handle this ride with you.

4. What do others say about the candidate

Absolutely ask around about the candidate. Especially if you can’t make the decision without more intel. But remember many people have their own agenda and their own bias. If you ask an employee of yours they may give you the best advice for the company or they may give you the advice that benefits them. Or you may give off the sense that you like this candidate–which could lead a “yes person” to give you the answer they think you want to hear. That doesn’t help anyone.

You need to go deeper. It’s like going to Amazon–you see a book with ten reviews and they’re all five stars? There’s a good chance those reviewers are friends and family of the author. That’s ok—ignore the stars and pay attention to the content of the review, the descriptions of the book. Whether the buzz you hear is positive or negative, it can still tell you a lot about how a person usually acts. You can make up your own mind about whether you like that behavior.

5. How does the candidate come across on social media

Any time I consider a candidate–before I ever meet them I will do a google search of their name and then search them on different social media networks including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and more. Even people who don’t use social media now usually have some kind of online footprint. Maybe they used to have an account. Maybe somebody else posted about them. Maybe they blog or showed up on someone’s website. It won’t work all time, but try searching them out on the different social networks

In my opinion just because you find something about them from years ago it doesn’t mean it should be absolutely used against them today. Is the candidate in a ten-year-old photo at a bar having a good time? This is where putting all these questions together lead to you making a decision.

Even if you find something really troubling, don’t assume the worst. You won’t find answers to who someone is online. You’ll find questions. Ask them.

Piecing together the puzzle — your business culture depends on it.

No one question or piece of information will tell you everything you need to know about a person’s character and how they will fit into your corporate culture. What you will get is a whole bunch of pieces, and it’s your job to piece them together to get the whole picture–and then make a decision.

I do believe having early qualifiers is important. If a candidate doesn’t meet these five criteria (the criteria most important to you) then they shouldn’t enter the next step. Stay true to that and make it easier on yourself as these decisions (and the process to get to the decision) are not to be taken lightly.

And remember we all make mistakes. I hired an individual who had great answers in the interview and came highly recommended, but it turned out this person only did things their own way. They weren’t a team player. The clues were there early, but the level of talent got in the way. Let’s just say it wasn’t a fit and we moved on.

Just like that football player who everyone thought was going to be picked by a certain team–no one knew the team’s culture quite like the owner, general manager, and coach. And no one knows your corporate culture like you.

Like this post on corporate culture? Check out our podcast, Entrepreneur Perspectives. On Apple Podcasts or Spotify.


Image by Marianne O’Leary [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons