One way to have a competitive advantage – no other business can copy – is to hire culture over skill.

I recently attended the ECOM AFRICA 2022 summit last month and one of the questions I was asked was about the leadership approach I believe is required for any company to be successful and progressive in the fast-paced world of digital business today.

As the leader of the AutoTrader, there is a mantra we live by and that is to hire culture over skill. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t hire someone for their skill, because skill is essential. The skills provide the understanding and give the business comfort that the person you hire knows what they are doing. 

What does hire culture over skill mean?

As Simon Sinek so brilliantly put it – you don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude. You can always teach skills.

It’s very hard to change culture or attitude but we can teach someone the skills that are needed to better perform at the position you are hiring for. Hiring for culture creates a working environment that people will enjoy working in. They will come to work not just for the job but for the other people at the job too.

I’ve always said, I want to work with nice people. This doesn’t mean working with soft agreeable people. Nice just means they fit into the business’s culture.

Advantages in hiring for culture over skill: 

  • higher productivity output,
  • open but more importantly vulnerable communication, 
  • positive mindsets of the people. 

It allows creative ideas to flow to progress and improve business objectives.

How to gain a competitive advantage in any market

I’ve said this for years, that culture is a business’s sole sustainable competitive advantage. Because competitors are going to copy what your business does, they cannot copy your culture, attitude of your people, and just “the way you do things”. Your competitors can copy your products and services, but will not have the same work ethic or attitudes you created internally in your business. And then by extension goes to the quality of your products and services.

So, if your business’s sole sustainable competitive advantage is its people and culture. Then you realise that you’re not hiring skills, you’re hiring people. A fundamental thing most leaders miss. The world isn’t made up of computers more than it’s made up of people.

If I had to choose between culture and skill and have somebody that has the aptitude to learn. I would choose culture 8 days out of 7. 

The evidence is in the success of AutoTrader SA.

Hire for culture primarily – the rest can be taught!