How important is corporate culture anyway???

11172013aA few years ago I had the pleasure of working on a project with a Fortune 200 client that afforded us the opportunity to deliver full lifecycle talent acquisition services to support their rapid growth and help align recruiting effort with the business demand. With their rapid growth, they wanted to be sure that they met their hiring demand with employees who were both a strong skill set fit and equally (in some opinions even more importantly) a strong cultural fit. The challenge was when asked to define what a good cultural fit is, leadership’s answer was ambiguous at best, which ultimately impacted hiring results and could have been prevented.

To give you a little context, culture was something they were determined to maintain, even in times of rapid growth. We discussed cultural fit daily. We even found it to be the single largest qualifying factor in candidates who did not pass their interview process. The culture of the organization was easy to see from the leadership team, as the office had a vibe of palpable coolness. Everyone was extremely polished and delivered their ideas with the grace of a Fortune 50 CEO…powerful and meaningful, but with enough enthusiasm to keep your attention. Equally impressive was the seemingly creative nature of the employees. Everyone seemed casual, but driven and motivated. One could assume there was a pedigree of great academic and professional experience behind this juxtaposition of casual and professional.

As we walked through their strategy for attracting talent, it was increasingly clear they needed to hire the most polished and well-pedigreed people from their respective functional areas. We developed messaging to attract these types and altered the interview process to make sure they moved smoothly through the process, so as not to lose any momentum along the way.

As we were developing the interview process to determine cultural fit and soft skills, I asked to meet with their top employees from each practice area. We decided top employees would be anyone with rapid career advancement, a good track record with the company and someone they would want to duplicate if possible.

I set out on my journey to meet with more than 10 people from a variety of functional areas within the company. I met wonderful people who clearly demonstrated their value to the organization with strong performance, outstanding tenure and commitment and a drive to meet and exceed every task put in front of them. They were certainly reflective of a culture you would want to re-create. However, they didn’t fit the description of the company’s culture from the leadership team. In fact, two of the leading technology employees were far outside of the spectrum. For lack of better terms, they were somewhat abrasive, unpolished and, frankly, a bit rough around the edges.

As we explored the obvious challenge of merging what they wanted their culture to reflect and what was truly valuable, we realized that corporate culture for them had

become their way of imparting their “gut feeling” on the assessment of potential candidates. We re-visited what was truly important in those soft-skills and compared it to their selected top employees and most recent hires. Not surprisingly, the gap was in that “gut feeling”. After evaluating the culture fit and gut feeling, we realized interviewers were using culture fit to dismiss candidates who actually would fit quite well in the company’s corporate culture. It was unintentional, but untrained interviewers were not able to assess some of the key characteristics in their culture because they were unaware of how to qualify them. It cannot simply be assumed that someone who enjoys working in a creative environment will show up in a t-shirt and jeans for an interview (sadly, this was an actual assessment to qualify if a candidate would work well in a creative environment). Fairly easily the most valuable characteristics can be assessed and quantified with simple situational based questions.

No doubt, culture is important. However, we’ve found a good majority of companies allow it to be a catch-all for candidates who lack certain characteristics which are important to the company, thereby creating an ambiguous bla03312014ck-hole which cannot be measured and provides no value for a growing company.

This is a problem. With talent shortages in most STEM and professional services categories now and in the foreseeable future, growing companies cannot afford to allow one person’s “gut” to dismiss an otherwise highly qualified candidate. If they want to capture the talent with skills and cultural fit, building a hiring process supported by clear ranking core characteristics, and applying behavioral based and quantitative situational based questions, companies can eliminate many of the associated risks of an otherwise unqualified approach. The importance of company culture is enormous. Just make sure culture is definable, measureable, and consistent in every part of your process.

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