Assessing Talent For Cultural Fit

by Julia Purcell, Senior Marketing Executive, Sigmar Recruitment

Most companies have a phrase to capture cultural fit, such as “no jerks policy”, “no egos”, “no a**hole policy” etc. and as crude as they sound they are very subjective and typically administered on gut feel. For such a subjective judgment call that’s critical to every hire, how do organisations apply this consistently? Here are three key principles to selecting talent for cultural fit;

1. Understand the Authenticity of Culture

Culture is the collective behaviours in the organisation, influenced by beliefs and practices. It’s the heartbeat and pulse of the organisation which ebbs and flows as the personality and character of people change. It is organic and blossoms from the people in the organisation.

It can’t be forced – it needs to be authentic as Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh recently discovered when he introduced a new way of working to his organisation. The e-tailer bought by Amazon for $1.2bn in 2002 has long been admired for its unique culture, so much so that Hsieh penned a book on it called “Delivering Happiness” which has established him as an international guru on the topic. On March 24, 1,500 or so Zappos employees got a memo from Tony concerning their transition to a new way of working called “Holacracy” (a manager-free operating structure that is composed, in theory, of equally privileged employees working in task-specific circles, often overlapping).

Hsieh began experimenting with Holacracy in 2013 as a way of maintaining Zappos’ lauded employee-centric environment as it continued to grow. On April 30th 2015, he offered an ultimatum: embrace self-management or we’ll give you a three-month severance package to leave. By May, 210 Zappos employees, or 14% of the company, had taken the offer. Although the jury is out on Holocracy, it was a costly lesson to learn (even for a guru) that culture can’t be forced – it needs to be authentic. The clearer it is defined, the easier it is to select for.

2. Values Have Value if they are Truly Valued and…Indicated

If culture is the result of behaviours, what guides behaviours? Values alone won’t guide behaviours. Integrity, Communication, Respect, Excellence hung in the boardroom of Enron before its infamous collapse! Clearly defining indicators of values is what guides behaviour. Take Hubspot for example, who used one key guiding value, to scale from an MIT spin out to a $billion valuation in 2015, which was “use good judgment”. Understanding that peoples judgment varies, they gave a clear indicators of what they mean to act as a beacon around behaviours asking employees to remember the following hierarchy when making a decision: How does your decision positively impact (1) the customer (2) the company (3) your team and (4) you. Clear indicators align behaviour! Identify indicators of values and assess against the indicators.

3. Purpose Beyond Task

Dan Pink emphasized the importance of purpose when he wrote about what motivates people to do their best work through his “Motivation Trifecta”: Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose! Author of the “Little Prince”, Antoine De Saint Exipery once wrote: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

Culture is sometimes a blend of what you are and what you aspire to be as an organisation. If you clearly understand what you aspire to be, there is a point where your value indicators and purpose meet and this is where authentic values meet purpose! Probe candidates impact on values that align with purpose beyond task. Look for points in their career where they influenced the dynamic of a team through reflecting values with a true sense of purpose.

Call it what you like, apply consistently and never compromise on cultural fit.

About the author
Julia plays a key role in the marketing and branding of Sigmar Recruitment and is responsible for Sigmar’s communications activities. She has successfully project managed the following events; Talent Summit 2017 and National Employment Week 2016 – Ireland’s largest HR conference. Julia is also a regular media contributor, writing regular blogs and features.