Culture vs Competence – Which One’s Better?

CNBC recently ran an article about Mark Cuban and his February Master Class “Win Big in Business”.  According to Cuban, there are “two things that matter the most [when it comes to hiring people].  Are they competent enough to do the job?  And do they fit in the culture of the organization?  If they fail on either one, you’re going to be in trouble.”[i]

On an episode of the “Re:Thinking with Adam Grant” podcast, the “Shark Tank” investor and Dallas Mavericks owner also said that creating collaborative working environments is more important than amassing raw talent.  Cuban said that he’s fired business partners and traded basketball players because of their personalities — especially when the team has multiple self-centered or combative members.[ii]

“Culture and chemistry are critical to success,” Cuban said. “A team can have one knucklehead, you can’t have two. One knucklehead adapts, two hang out together.”

He’s correct – in so far as that goes.

According to a 2019 Glass Door survey of 5000 adults in the US, UK, France, and Germany, 56% of workers rank a strong workplace culture as more important than salary, with more than 75% of employees saying they’d consider a company’s culture before applying for a job there.[iii]

That’s probably generally true as well.  However, as with most things in life, the devil is in the details.

According to data from more recent studies investigating attitudes surrounding Return To Work mandates, the exact opposite has been revealed.  Most employees don’t give a darn about the culture of their organizations when compared against the freedom, flexibility, and cost savings, of working remotely, and many companies (with pre-existing great cultures) are struggling to get their employees to return to the office.

Sadly, trends come and go, and the ‘experts’ don’t always know what they’re talking about.  Consider the ‘wisdom’ that these experts offered as an example:

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.”
– President of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977 –

“We don’t like their sound. Groups of guitars are on the way out.”
– Decca Recording Company executive, turning down the Beatles, 1962 –

“Forget it, Louis, no Civil War picture ever made a nickel.”
– Irving Thalberg’s warning to Louis B. Mayer regarding Gone With the Wind –

So, who’s right, and who do you believe?

Trust yourself, your own gut instinct, and in what has been proven to work.

Mark Cuban is right in that no one wants to work in a toxic, stressful environment, and no employer wants incompetent, unreliable, problematic employees.

There are solutions to both of these problems, but no silver bullets or magic fixes.  Like most things in life, solutions require patience, a thoughtful approach, time, and effort.  It’s easy for folks like Cuban and others to say “Here’s the secret.  Just do X.”  The question remains, how does one accomplish it?

I’ll leave the culture issue for another day.  As for how to ensure that applicants are “competent enough to do the job,” just one of the answers is to assess them for the skills, aptitudes, and attitudes that are necessary for success in a particular role.  You needn’t be a billionaire, nor own an NFL team to be able see the wisdom in doing that.  You also don’t need to be a personality on “Shark Tank” to take advantage of them either.

A corporate culture can be difficult to change or improve, but anyone can get their hands on good screening tests and start using them to their advantage immediately.

Whether you’re hiring from outside, or promoting from within, whether it’s for an entry-level or an executive role, and whether it’s for an auto mechanic, call centre, sales, finance, HR, engineering or a technical IT position… there’s a test for that!

If you want to know if an applicant is “competent enough to do the job” then assess their skill sets and confirm it before you hire them.  It actually really is that simple.

Finding competent people is always a challenge, however, identifying the best amongst your applicants doesn’t have to be.  All you have to do is assess them for the skills that you want, and which you know are critical for success.

In fact, if your employees are telling you that there’s a big gap between your actual culture and the ideal that you’re striving towards – there’s a test for that too!

If you’re struggling with these kinds of issues and want to improve your hiring success rates, reduce your turnover, increase your productivity, have happier customers, and a better workplace culture, then contact an expert who can help you find the right solutions that meet your exact needs.

If you do, then maybe you’ll be the next Mark Cuban telling others how to become successful in business.

David Towler is President of Creative Organizational Design, a firm offering nearly 40 years of expertise specializing in employee assessments and which has nearly 5000 different product titles available. Creative Organizational Design has assessment tools designed to help employers screen out other people’s rejects, assess skills, aptitude, attitude and ‘fit’ within an organization. For more information about the options available and help selecting the best tools for your needs please contact us because no matter what personnel challenges you’re facing – there’s a test for that!  Please send comments about this article to



[i] Mark Cuban looks for 2 qualities in employees: ‘If they fail on either one, you’re going to be in trouble’

ii] Mark Cuban fires business partners and NBA players for the same reason: ‘A team can have 1 knucklehead, you can’t have 2’

iii] New Survey: Company Mission & Culture Matter More Than Salary

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