Rand Fishkin Schools Us on Company Culture

Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEOmoz gives it to us straight in his post, “What Company Culture IS and IS NOT.” There are thousands of articles, posts, chats and updates having recruiters and hiring managers in a mental tug of war over hiring for attitude and cultural fit, or hiring for skill and experience. Fishkin contends that we might not even know what hiring for cultural fit means, and I would say that his stance is quite valid.

Rand Fishkin Schools Us on Company Culture

We seem to be confusing things like business lunches and white elephant gift exchanges for actual company culture. The hype around building a culture has led to a sad dilution of what could be a great thing. Hosting a company picnic is a far cry from the definition of cultivating company culture, and a surprising amount of employers might be taken back this fact. A lot of companies might be getting it wrong. There is a difference between workplace environments and company culture.

Glassdoor recently collected some data on the most popular questions asked hiring managers. They collected about 285,000 questions and captured the top four questions asked during organizational interviews. Not surprisingly, none of these top four questions had anything to do with skills or experience.

  • What’s your favorite movie?
  • What’s your favorite website?
  • What’s the last book you read for fun?
  • What makes you uncomfortable?

Fishkin warns against using these such questions for determining cultural fit. He said,

“I’m scared that this is how the emerging conversation around company culture and finding cultural fits for startups and teams is being portrayed. If this mentality sinks in, and if this is the “brand” that culture develops outside the echo chamber of tech startups, we’re all going to suffer for it.”

There is obvious value in cultivating a positive company culture, but most of us don’t know how to do it, or worse -we don’t even know that we don’t know!

Now that we know what company culture isn’t, Fishkin gives us some insights on what company culture means to him.


Starting at the top, company values are best determined taking a look at the precedents already set company leaders. Having the company values written down on a plaque somewhere near the front of the building is nice, but values are determined both actions and goals. Fishkin says,

“If you’re trying to figure out what a company’s values really are, look at the decisions management makes when lots of money, risk, or loss of face for executives is at odds with the stated values.”

Mission and Vision

Determining the company’s mission and vision will again boil down to how actions have measured up to promises. Has this company lived up to the expectations that they have set for themselves? Fishkin said,

“Want to know the company’s mission & vision? Look at what they’ve intentionally chosen not to do, even though it could be lucrative.”

Hiring Firing and Promotions

Getting real about these things can help to define the culture as it really is, not just how we would like it to be. Fishkin encourages us to take a look at:

  • Why we decide to bring people onto the team
  • Why we decide to fire those people
  • The reasons that we promote people

A lot of misleading notions and opinions on company culture have distorted our collective view on the matter. What some are calling a rant, we believe to be a welcome refresher course on what company culture actually is. Many of us have simplified company culture down to a casual Friday, and that is a waste of a very effective tool in business. Here is a complete look at Rand’s “rant”.