Attracting people to fit your company culture - Business Works
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Attracting people to fit your company culture

Paul Stephenson, MD, Results International Have you ever worked in a company where you just didn’t fit in? How did that affect how you felt about yourself and your bosses, and did it affect your performance?

Why it matters

When there is disconnect between an employee and employer the consequences can be very damaging. High employee turnover, poor performance, disruption and negativity are all problems for the company. However, when they are in synch with each other the positivity, opportunity and good performance for both parties can be exponential. Even though a good fit with a job is important (the skills, knowledge and experience needed to do the role), what actually overrides much of the day to day mechanics of the employment relationship is to what degree the individual and the company culture are in synch with each other.

For the employee, especially Generation Y, working for a company whose values, ethics and working practices reflect their own is increasingly important. Awareness of such issues is much higher now than in previous generations. The idea of leaving some of your personality at the entrance to the office and wearing a 'mask' at work is becoming outdated. People generally want to be authentic and true to themselves in all situations - including at work. That often includes social responsibilities, a sense of purpose, fun and interaction with others. Yahoo is an example of a company that encourages individualism by suggesting employees decorate their work stations in their own style. Everything from a comic fanatic to a sports enthusiast is reflected in this way.

In 2004 Reed Consulting surveyed 4800 UK workers revealing 9 out of 10 respondents would actively choose a workplace culture that they fit in to instead of a £1000 pay rise. Additionally, 91% would choose to be in a culture that suited their own working style rather than being paid above the going rate, no matter how generous this was. The study also found that the 'emotional fit' at work is particularly important when it comes to employee retention.

If you have an employee who is in sync with the company culture, they are likely to be more committed, perform better, stay longer, promote the company and even return if they are poached by a competitor, than someone who joined just for the job.

How do you know if you’ve got it wrong?

There are a number of key indicators to watch out for:

  • If employee turnover is above your industry norm, then that is a sure sign that either the matching exercise at point of recruitment is not working or the culture of the company is not delivering against expectations of the employee.
  • Nowadays, many companies carry out regular employee surveys which can provide the employer with a host of valuable information. To what degree do employees actively engaged in the company? How do they feel about their employment? How well are management leading and creating an optimum environment? To what extent does the culture of the company match the values of the employees? If the responses are poor then you know you have work to do.
  • How many people progress up the ranks in your organisation or move from one function to another? If you find that you have to recruit from outside the company to fill jobs that, in theory, could have been taken up by current employees, then your development process is letting both parties down.
  • Poor performance can be a sign of a mis-match. Yes, of course it may be as simple as the individual is not good at their job. However, it could also be because they feel they are unable to perform to their optimum because the culture and / or management style does not bring out the best in them.
  • Consistent employee dissent may be an indication of a deep issue rather than just a selection of irritants.

What is company culture?

Culture can be described as the values, beliefs and behaviours of the organisation. This is more than simply an intellectual exercise; it is how things are actually done in the company. How are people treated? What practices are encouraged? What behaviours are rewarded? What is the dress code? How much freedom do people have to make decisions? What are the social parameters of the organisation? Does the culture promote competition or cooperation, are people defensive or trusting, is innovation encouraged or should people stick to the rules?

Most management gurus espouse the importance of a strong, focussed corporate culture and identify that those companies with such a culture are the ones that experience the most sustainable growth.

The brand itself is often a main driver or indicator of the corporate culture. Take Amazon for example. They describe themselves as the "earth’s most customer-centric company" and one of their stated values is that they should hire only people who they would admire, would learn from and who is a 'superstar'. These, together with their other values, make up what the company stands for. It is clear for employees and customers alike which kind of person will likely be successful at Amazon. In fact, Amazon continues to strengthen their brand culture through relevant acquisition. In recent years they have acquired LoveFilm and Zappos, both have the customer at their core. There is clearly a synergy in the type of people who would be attracted to and work effectively in all these organisations.

If you are not sure what your company’s culture is, do spend time working it out and be clear on what kind of person would fit in the organisation. It may be that the current culture does not set up the company for success. If that is the case, the leaders need to make some changes in order to develop a winning environment that is in line with the business.

How to recruit for best fit

It is not an exact science, however there are some key opportunities within the process when you can check for cultural synchronicity.

If you have a strong product identity which feeds in to the employer branding, then the chances are that the people who make direct job applications already have an idea that they can relate to the product or service. This branding should be clearly visible in any job adverts and do make sure that you place them in relevant locations / publications that reflect the culture of the company. It is also worth spending extra time to ensure any agencies you may use, really understand the organisations culture, who would fit in that environment and how they might be attracted to the position. Boden takes this a step further. It has a film on its website where employees talk about what it’s like working for the company, the philosophy and its informal almost 'family' style. The site also talks in explicit terms about what matters to the company and what it does and doesn’t stand for.

Once you have a candidate in front of you, the next challenge is to stay focussed on the cultural fit and not just job suitability. It can be tempting for a manager to select employees based on job specific or departmental needs, but this will likely only provide a short-term gain. Asking the candidate about how they have reacted or behaved as a result of certain situations will provide perspective on the values and working style of the individual. Areas to consider could include how they like to interact with colleagues and customers, how they feel about the company’s product, what kind of management style seems to bring out the best in them.

During the interview also discuss the candidate’s interests, motivations and expectations. Be open about the organisation, how it works, what behaviours are encouraged, what kind of approach the company takes on corporate social responsibility for example. This will give you, and importantly the candidate too, additional information to establish whether they will be a good cultural fit or not.

In addition to the interview, there may be other elements to the selection process such as presentations, psychometric testing or work scenarios. Each aspect should accurately reflect the culture of the company. If team working is held in high regard, having the candidate meet the immediate team would indicate the importance of group decision making to him or her. Equally if presentations are formal events in your company then this should be reflected in the way the candidate is set up for their presentation. It is a false economy if the experience the candidate is having during the selection process does not accurately reflect the reality, since a mis-match would likely occur.

Finally, trust your instincts and those of the people you trust. Along with following a logical and structured process, sometimes your 'gut-feel' shouldn’t be ignored; this is your sub-conscious coming to the fore on whether or not the candidate is a good or bad choice.

Of course, the decision on whether to join a company is a mutual one. Not only does the company need to select the 'right' candidate but the individual wants to join a business which will provide the environment and career they are searching for. To that end making sure the candidate is adequately exposed to the organisation before any decisions are made is prudent. Having a guided tour of the offices, spending some time in the department, perhaps listening in to customer calls or sitting in on a meeting will all give a sense of the day to day experience.

Is it all worth it?

This may feel like a mighty task, however the benefits of appointing people who are in sync with your culture are clear, both for you and the employee. Finding a company in which you have a sense of belonging, where there are like-minded colleagues and the work is satisfying is what most people aspire to. If you have done your job in recruiting people who are in sync with the corporate culture then your employees will be happy and have that sense of fit. They will reward you with good performance, commitment, longevity and loyalty and ultimately a successful business.

Paul Stephenson is Managing Director at Results International, business coaching and training specialists. He is a finance and people specialist working with major brands and small business owners. For more information:

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