Culture is difficult to define, but is essential to the hiring process. Alma’s Luis Miguel Messianu delves into what he’s learned from running an agency and defining its culture.

You’ve probably heard the current recruiting mantra: “Hire for attitude. Train for skills.”

Wise advice from consultants and HR experts. What you probably rarely hear is: “Make sure you hire people who truly fit your culture.” Do it for the sake of your company and, more importantly, for the benefit of the people you hire and fire. By the way, you’ve probably heard this one, too: “Be slow to hire and fast to fire.” Another piece of solid advice.

We have three pillars in our culture: Curiosity, Collaboration and Accountability. Since our agency has grown so much in the last few years, with our management team at its strongest, I no longer get involved in the bulk of the interviewing process. However, I’m still very much engaged with the top positions. In fact, I recently went through a round of interviews for a key business development position.

During my chats with the prospects, I realized that I was asking myself the tough questions:

  • Will he/she get along with our leadership team?
  • Will this person be a role model for our team?
  • Will I want to spend my weekends with him/her and our respective families?
  • Does he/she seem curious about our industry, about acquiring new knowledge, and the world at large?
  • How good of a team player would this person be?
  • Does he/she come across as someone who will take responsibility for mistakes and share success? Does this person speak in singular or plural? I or we?

Interviewing is about asking those key questions that are compatible with your own. We should stay away from the typical interview template questions: “Where would you like to be in five years?” “Why should we hire you?”, etc.

We need to create a set of questions based on our unique culture. In our case, we need to gauge curiosity and assess a spirit of collaboration as well as a genuine sense of accountability.

This hasn’t been easy, but over the years I’ve been fine-tuning them. One of my favorite ones is: “What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?” I’ve gotten a range of responses, and although I’m not going to reveal the answer I expect, I’m sure you can guess, dear reader.

As the agency’s founder, I see myself as the protector of Alma’s culture and values. In fact, I firmly believe that company culture should be part of your business plan. This has really been “our secret sauce” (McDonald’s pun intended, given this year we’re celebrating 25 years as their national Hispanic agency of record, a huge matter of pride for all of us!).

The pillars in our culture are something we continuously share with our team. We promote, implement, protect, and enforce them when the team’s actions are not consistent with them. Culture is far more effective than policies or strict guidelines.

Since the agency’s inception, I’ve been talking about Pride, Fun and Money (in that strict order).

A people-first focus translates into better creative, happier clients and long-term momentum for the agency. Our main focus is to make sure that our people are happy. And it helps that we are in Miami! It also helps that we have created a fertile ecosystem that fosters diversity… and I mean Diversity of Thoughts as well as ethnic background, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

The entire management team and our Head of Talent subscribe to this notion. It’s been crucial. It’s part of our DNA. We are a multicultural shop with 32 nationalities. I’m convinced that interesting ideas come from interesting people. It’s as simple (and complex) as that! And in all candor, it better reflects the changing face of our beloved America.