Our writer Kazim Ladimeji is a vocal advocate for the importance of hiring based on cultural fit rather than skill set. In fact, he’s argued in favor of emphasizing cultural fit so many times that I don’t feel any need to mount an argument of my own in this piece.
Suffice it to say that I — and many others — are convinced that cultural fit matters in the hiring process.
Cheryl Kerrigan, V.P. of employee success at employee rewards and recognition platform Achievers, is with me on the pro-cultural fit side of this debate.
“If you are not attracting candidates to your company that believe in your culture, that have the same values, [hiring] is just such an uphill battle,” Kerrigan says.
Kerrigan estimates that the hiring process at Achievers is about 70 percent cultural fit and 30 percent skills.
“We really believe that, if we get the right people into our culture, we can train on the rest,” she explains. “At Achievers, we find hiring based on E.Q., rather than I.Q., is a critical factor in the success of the company. Right from the get-go, we take a lot of time upfront explaining [to candidates] what the company is and what we believe in. We really assess the candidates all the way through [the hiring process] based on a cultural fit.”
The Importance of Understanding Your Culture Before the Hiring Process Starts
Now, hiring based on cultural fit is all well and good, but doing so requires that an organization — and all the decision makers involved in the hiring process — truly understands what its culture is, so that it can communicate a clear and accurate vision of the culture to prospective candidates. This vision, in turn, will attract the kinds of candidates who are interested in — and who will thrive at — the company’s particular culture.
“Really being honest and taking a true assessment of the type of company that you are will help you attract the right talent,” Kerrigan explains.
If, however, a company doesn’t fully understand its culture, then it runs the risk of advertising a warped — or outright false — view of what it is like to work there. This, in turn, leads to bad hires.
“[For example,] if you’re saying that you’re open and transparent, but you’re not updating employees or giving them visibility into where the company is going, it feels disjointed,” Kerrigan says. “I think that leads to people signing up for what they thought was going to happen, and then six months later, they start to become disengaged, because what they were told in the recruiting process actually hasn’t come to light.”
How to Uncover, Understand, and Communicate Your Company’s Culture
For employers looking to make strong hires based on cultural fit, the task becomes fully understanding the company’s culture before the hiring process begins.
No one can tell a company what its culture should look like. That depends entirely on the company itself — its values, its mission, its industry, etc.
For example, Kerrigan says, a tech startup will probably have a very different culture than an established, big-name financial firm. These companies have very different aims, and each will require very different types of employees to achieve its aims.
So then, in order to fully understand the company culture — so that it can be used as a tool that attracts the right kinds of candidates and ensures the best hires – company leaders need to put hiring on hold for a bit and take a few important steps first.
1. Define the Company Mission
Every company should have a clearly defined and readily communicable mission, and that goes double for companies that want to hire based on cultural fit.
“If you don’t have a clearly defined mission, it is going to be really hard to find people to help you achieve that mission,” Kerrigan says.
2. Define the Company’s Values
Once the mission has been clearly defined, leadership must next define the sorts of behaviors, motivations, and personality traits required to pursue the mission passionately and productively. This information collectively makes up the company’s values, which in turn tell the company what it should be looking for in new employees.
“For instance, Achievers’ mission is pretty lofty: it’s to change the way the world works,” Kerrigan explains. “Therefore, we look for people that are somewhat edgy, that are okay with doing things differently. We want people that think outside the box, that take risks and aren’t afraid of failure.”
3. Share Values With Hiring Managers and Employees
Leadership’s next step is to spread the company’s values throughout the organization to ensure that everyone understands these values and “lives them” as daily habits.
“[The values] have to be very visible across the organization,” Kerrigan says. “Don’t just put them in an employee handbook and shove it in a corner!”
Kerrigan says the key to ensuring that values are visible across the organization and fully ingrained into the culture is operationalizing those values. Achievers does this by giving employees a chance to recognize and celebrate one another for instances of living out the company’s values.
4. Bring Values Into the Recruiting Process
Once the values are shared, adopted, and lived internally, then they begin to show up in the recruiting process.
“Every hiring manager will have an understanding of the people you are trying to attract,” Kerrigan explains.
Armed with such an understanding, hiring managers and other decision makers can communicate the company’s values in employer branding materials, attracting candidates who feel compelled by these values. Moreover, decision makers can assess candidates against these values, choosing to hire those who truly fit in with the company’s culture.