This is what we stand for (aka, Culture = Strategy, Part 2)

When I was a Head of School, I really blew one particular interview process.

We had gotten down to two candidates, both excellent and deeply mission-aligned. We would end up with a great teacher no matter what.

One candidate also happened to be a person of color. This was (to me) a huge opportunity to welcome someone who could contribute something our culture lacked.

During the hiring team’s final discussion, the hiring division director said, “I like them both a lot, and I don’t think we can go wrong—they’re both good fits. That said, I think ‘Candidate A’ is a better cultural fit.”

Candidate A was the white caucasian candidate.

I replied that Candidate A might be a better cultural fit, but that Candidate B—the teacher of color—was still a cultural fit; they both had “enough” culture fit. However, I argued, Candidate B would also enrich our culture.

My advocacy failed. We hired Candidate A.

Should I have pulled rank? That might have created its own set of problems. And when you’re trying to cultivate a more diverse and inclusive faculty, solutions rarely lie in the moment before the hire.

Still, I thought of that episode when I read Chris Ballard’s POV about designing the ideal organization:

Every time you hire someone, you are announcing to your organization, “This is what we stand for.”



  • Every time you have a pool of candidates, you have to say no to at least one other finalist. When that pool includes a potential “talented jerk,” you have the chance to say, “This is not what we stand for.”

  • The blade cuts the other way too: when you decline to hire a candidate who will contribute diversity (of whatever sort) to the culture, you are implying, “This is not what we stand for.” I made that mistake. I had been preaching the importance of becoming a more diverse and inclusive community, so when I deferred the final decision to the division director, I also probably signaled to those unsupportive of a more diverse community, “Well, diversity is not that important…”

  • All of the above applies to promotions.

When I think back on that hiring process, I still regret not pushing harder for—maybe even insisting on—Candidate B.

Afterwards, I promised myself that I would never make that same mistake.

So at Basecamp and Expeditionaries, we hire at least 50% people of color (in addition to looking for other types of diversity) because we stand for pluralism. We believe pluralism is the foundation of an equitable, ethical, and talent-rich culture. We also stand for pluralism because we know—from experience— that culture = strategy.

What do your most recent hires and promotions tell the world about what you stand for?


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Christian Talbot