Corporate Culture: Your Secret Weapon in the Talent War

By Candace Coleman, CultureWise Content Manager

After months of a “wait and see” attitude about hiring during the pandemic, it looks like this will be a banner team-building year. According to a poll of over 4,000 leaders of small and medium businesses taken by Vistage, “64% of CEOs reported plans to increase headcount in 2021, well above the 55% from last year; a key indicator of growth expected in the year ahead.”

In a report about the trend, Vistage Chief Research Officer Joe Galvin notes that “the Q4 2020 CEO Confidence Index returned to near Q4 2019 levels, which is significant as it was believed that 2020 would be a breakout economic year.”

This kind of optimism is upbeat news for job seekers and employers alike, but renewed enthusiasm about hiring will also reignite the war for talent.

Everyone knows that for companies to be winners in an increasingly competitive marketplace, they need to attract, develop, and retain exceptional team members.

What’s the best strategy to come out ahead?

While high pay and appealing benefits will draw qualified applicants, these factors may not deliver the kind of people who will make an organization thrive. To give their companies an edge, business leaders should be looking for strong candidates who are also a great fit with their corporate culture.

What’s A Cultural Fit?

A formal set of values may be one way a business defines itself, but these principles don’t necessarily represent its culture. The culture is formed by the staff’s behaviors that bring those values to life.

A cultural fit is someone who will comfortably align with the way a team regularly works and interacts to achieve personal and organizational success.

That doesn’t mean new hires should be clones of existing staff; companies filled with people with diverse perspectives are stronger and have broader capabilities. The fit is in the manner shared goals are achieved.

Before they begin the hiring process, leaders should evaluate their organizational culture to determine what a cultural fit for their company looks like.

It’s not a “one size fits all” proposition because every company’s culture is unique. Someone who would be an excellent fit for one organization because they have the same outlook and standards may not blend in at all somewhere else.

Why Cultural Fit is Important

As we settle into a job growth spurt, building and joining the right teams ought to be everyone’s mantra. Of course, the appropriate combination of skills, knowledge, and experience is important. But candidates and employers should also prioritize cultural fit as they go through the search process.

Without it, an incredible, high-paying job can turn into a terrible experience for a recruit. And qualified new hires with the wrong attitude can erode a stable culture. In fact, a cultural fit is more important than finding someone who has fully developed skills for a specific job. As Kolbeco founder Lauren Kolbe points out:

“We can teach someone to do a job. We can’t teach someone to love the way we operate. An employee who is not aligned with the culture and is not committed to living it can wreak havoc pretty quickly, even if they bring a great deal of skill and experience to their craft.”

A company might get by with a misaligned workforce, but it isn’t likely to excel. A healthy culture is the rocket fuel that makes good companies great.

4 Benefits of a Good Cultural Fit

It takes patience to find people who align with an existing culture. Leaders willing to spend the time to hire good fits will be rewarded in many ways. Their efforts will not only enhance the working experience for everyone; they will also positively impact overall profit.

Four significant benefits of hiring cultural fits:

Employee Engagement

Engagement is the commitment an employee has to an organization and its goals. There will always be a few disgruntled staff members who are “actively disengaged” in any company. Interestingly, these people aren’t the biggest problem for management. They’re easier to weed out or will leave on their own.

A much bigger issue for employers is having people on board who are simply not engaged.

A 2019 Gallop poll discovered that 52% of employees fall into this group of reasonably good employees who don’t feel particularly connected to their employer. These are folks who view their job as a paycheck and only do what’s required to fulfill their professional obligations.

Employees who aren’t engaged are also likely to be the job-hoppers that company leaders dread because turnover is so costly. People who “look good on paper” but tend to jump ship at any new opportunity cost recruitment and training expenses that will need to be shelled out again for replacements.

Leaders who think it takes too long to find candidates who align with their culture should consider the time and money it takes to refill positions.

People hired because they’re a good cultural fit most likely accepted the job for the same reason—they believe the company lines up with their ideals and work ethic. They’ll be satisfied in their work because they’re in sync with the culture.

As Director of Deloitte Consulting Marc Solow observes, “Today, more than twice as many employees are motivated by work passion than career ambition.”

Salary and benefits matter, but what really builds employee loyalty and engagement is a solid cultural fit.

Performance

Employees who fit in will not only stay on board; they’ll also be high performers. The company’s success matters to them on a personal level because they feel like they belong. They’ll take more pride in how things are executed and how the company is perceived by the public.

Good cultural fits don’t look at themselves as people who work at a company; they believe they are the company.

This commitment manifests in several ways:

  • Good fits are more adaptable than people who struggle to connect with a company. Because they arrive already aligned with the existing culture, it’s easier for them to roll with the ups and downs that occur in any business. They can pivot and respond to changes more effectively because they’re on the team wavelength.

  • Employees who fit with a company’s culture feel more confident expressing ideas and making suggestions because they’re genuinely interested in being agents of success. They want to be actively involved in keeping the positive momentum going and are always looking for ways to improve.

  • People who feel a deep affiliation with the company they work for are more likely to hold themselves accountable for their performance. And when they’re evaluated, they’re more receptive to feedback because everyone has shared goals.
Conflicts

Hiring good cultural fits doesn’t mean enlisting people identical viewpoints. But if people are aligned with a company’s culture from day one, even though they may have occasional differences of opinion, the likelihood of ongoing workplace conflict is significantly diminished.

Everyone draws on their own experiences when they interact with others. People who don’t identify with a company’s culture tend to default to pre-existing mindsets that make workplace drama inevitable.

But employees who feel like they fit in are more team-oriented and tend to use the organization’s behavioral norms to guide their responses. When differences arise, conflict resolution is easier because everyone is a member of the same strong culture.

Instead of resorting to ego-driven contests to push personal agendas, good fits tend to approach things with the perspective of what’s best for the organization.

Communication

Communication is smoother when people feel connected to an organization’s culture. There are fewer misassumptions because everyone is on the same page with shared expectations.

New hires who blend into the culture will tune in faster because they’re already primed to “speak the same language.”

Tightly bound work cultures often use rituals to reinforce behaviors that help people work effectively together. Many of these exercises revolve around communication.

For instance, daily “huddles” are an opportunity for everyone to check in and share what’s going on and tie the day’s topics with cultural goals. People who are good fits will flourish as they engage in rituals that help the team succeed.

One hold-over phenomenon from the pandemic is that the remote or hybrid workforce is here to stay. From now on, an employee base is likely to include people who seldom come into the office or even live in another time zone.

Organizational culture is the conduit that facilitates and promotes communication between people regardless of where they are.  

2 Steps to Get a Great Cultural Fit

Some people still use the old “Would I want to get a beer with this person?” yardstick and hire based on their gut reaction to candidates. But likeability doesn’t equate with being a good cultural fit. A qualified person who’s charming in an interview might turn out to be a problem on the job.  

Two steps will help leaders avoid costly hiring mistakes:

  • Identify and spell out the behaviors that form your company culture
  • Make these behaviors a focal point of the hiring process
Identify Behaviors

Leaders won’t find people who fit with their culture if they have a hard time explaining what their culture is. To define it, they should pinpoint the behaviors that make their company successful. These are the characteristics that new people should exemplify.

While a company’s values may be clearly stated in its branding, its optimal behaviors usually aren’t put in writing. Often they’re just referred to as “the way we do things around here.”

By articulating the behaviors that form a strong culture, leaders can provide guidance for current employees; and create a powerful barometer to identify the best candidates to hire.

An effective process to determine the behaviors that create a strong culture is outlined in Culture by Design, by author and CultureWise CEO David Friedman.

“The key,” he explains, “is to look inside yourself to identify the things that are meaningful to you.”

Friedman suggests that leaders ask themselves these questions to get started:

  • What are the things that, if done more consistently, would make your company amazing?
  • What are the things you often “rant” about?
  • What are the things that drive you crazy; what would be the opposite of those behaviors?
  • Which employees exemplify the way you like to see things done? Why?

Once leaders begin to view their company culture through the lens of the behaviors that drive success, it’s much easier for them to know what they’re looking for in the hiring process.

Culture as a Tool for Hiring

Culture is an underused recruiting and interviewing resource, but it can be one of the most effective ways to identify people who will excel on the team that is already in place.    

Recruiting

The definitions leaders carve out to describe their culture should be used in recruiting tools and job postings. Doing so helps provide transparency about what the company is looking for in candidates. For instance, Euston founder Ian Cluroe suggests emphasizing some of the qualitative things a candidate should possess:

“In addition to looking for X years of experience, say that you’re looking for someone who’s innovative, entrepreneurial, or customer-centric—whatever characteristics reflect your culture.”

Here are some more examples of behaviors to spell out in recruiting materials:

  • If collaboration is paramount in an organization, stress that quality in postings so people who work best on their own understand that’s not the cultural norm for this job.

  • A company that wants personally accountable, independent thinkers should make that clear. That way, people who work best in a highly structured environment and prefer lots of direction will know to look elsewhere.

In essence, in addition to the basic qualifications, a job description should paint a picture of the person who would fit into the company’s culture.

This kind of clarity helps job seekers understand whether they would fit in or not. When it’s obvious that expectations aren’t shared, it saves everyone involved valuable time.

Interviewing

Once candidates are selected, management should strategically use company culture to help guide the interview process. That involves coming up with questions that will shed light on applicants’ perception of specific behaviors—questions that reveal what makes them tick.

David Friedman points out that it’s more important to discover candidates’ intrinsic behaviors that are part of a person’s nature versus learned behaviors that can be taught.

He recommends developing questions that ask people to tell stories about their work-life, rather than what they “think” about something or hypothetical situations. For example, an interviewer might ask:

“Tell me about a time you delivered amazing service to a customer. What was the situation, and what did you do?”

He goes on to suggest asking open-ended questions rather than ones that solicit yes/no answers. The more the interviewer can get the candidate talking, the more they’ll see how they view the world.

Many companies use profile assessment tools to help identify the best potential hires. These can add data points to an interview, but they can’t read the nuances of a culture fit as well as someone who’s immersed in that culture can.

Clearly defined organizational behaviors help leaders avoid making gut-reaction hiring decisions. And it eliminates multiple interpretations of desirable characteristics if more than one manager is involved in the hiring process.  

If You Build it, They Will Come

The basis for a high performing team is a corporate culture that attracts and sustains exceptional people. Leaders who intentionally build and cultivate a robust culture will draw and retain top talent for their organization. As David Friedman often points out:

“Good cultures happen by chance; world-class cultures happen by design.

To read more insightful advice about improving your culture, the first two chapters of Culture by Design are available for a free download. The book provides an easy-to-follow process to develop and enhance company culture. In the words of Mark Moses, Founding Partner of CEO Coaching International, “If you read just one business book this year, make it this one.”

For those who want to take it a step further, the process outlined in the book is integrated into CultureWise—a complete operating system for culture. CultureWise provides a suite of tools and content to teach and improve the culture within an organization, and it’s available in two versions that will fit practically any size business and budget.

The bottom line is that a vibrant culture will attract and retain a staff that clicks with organizational goals. By building a great culture, leaders create the differentiating factor that will propel their company to the top of their field.