Hiring for Culture Fit
Do you know the values that are core to the culture of your company? Many companies do. For example, at the Whole Foods Market, they genuinely care about the environment. As they state on their website, “We respect our environment and recycle, reuse, and reduce our wastes wherever and whenever we can.” They further explain, “Whole Foods Market believes companies, like individuals, must assume their share of responsibility as tenants of Planet Earth.” They are clear about their values and publicize them on everything from their website to their grocery bags.
Similarly, at Zappos.com, they talk about their culture of delivering WOW through service. According to CEO Tony Hsieh, in his book Delivering Happiness (2010),
At Zappos.com, we decided a long time ago that we didn’t want our brand to be just about shoes, or clothing, or even online retailing. We decided that we wanted to build our brand to be about the very best customer service and the very best customer experience. We believe that customer service shouldn’t be just a department, it should be the entire company.
They offer tours of their Las Vegas headquarters to share their culture with everyone. The CEO and the employees actively communicate and share the values that are core to their culture.
Successful companies understand the values that are core to their culture. And they consistently hire people who will practice those values and project that image effortlessly. Think about your company: Do you know the values that are core to your organization? And do you screen applicants to ensure that those values are also important to them?
Hiring Applicants Who Are a Fit
When selecting employees, consider the individual’s fit with both the job and the culture. To evaluate the candidate’s fitness for the job, companies consider these questions:
- Does the applicant have the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary for this job?
- What past experiences have prepared the applicant for this job?
- Do the applicant’s strengths match the requirements for this job?
- Will this person be sufficiently challenged doing this work?
More and more organizations now add another layer of questioning to evaluate how a candidate fits their culture. When evaluating an applicant for culture fit, companies think about these questions:
- Is the organization’s work meaningful to the applicant?
- Are the applicant’s values in harmony with the values of our organization?
- Will the person naturally perform in ways that are consistent with how we do things here?
Screening for culture fit is an essential part of the selection process. There is a greater likelihood that employees will stay with an organization where the work feels meaningful. Additionally, when the organization’s values are in sync with the employee’s values, the employee feels a greater sense of harmony at work.
Those candidates selected on the basis of culture fit—in addition to job fit—are a total fit. As Warren Buffett (WSJ, October 27, 2010, page C1) said when he hired Todd Combs to take over his portfolio when Buffett retires, “He (Combs) is a 100% fit for our culture.” Mr. Buffett further explained how screening Combs for culture fit was essential for sustaining the culture. Buffett said,
I can define the culture while I am here, but we want a culture that is so embedded that it doesn’t get tested when the founder of it isn’t around. Todd is perfect in that respect.
Culture matters because when employees consistently practice shared values, it provides an experience that loyal customers seek. Just look at companies like Starbucks who hire people not just to deliver a perfect cup of coffee, but also to deliver an experience that is aligned with their culture and brand.
When culture fit is considered in hiring, everyone benefits. Candidates who are selected on the basis of culture fit—in addition to job fit—contribute faster, perform better and stay longer with the organization. And when hiring managers neglect culture fit, the company and the employee share the burden. Individuals who are not a fit can be toxic to the culture, and when groups of people are hired that lack the necessary fit, often the result is a fragmented or schizophrenic-type culture. Because values are difficult to change, culture fit cannot easily be altered through training and development.
So how do you hire for culture fit? First, define the Core Culture of the organization so you know the principles and values that are most important for the organization. Then, screen applicants for their fit with those Core Culture principles and values. What you will be examining is the actual similarity of the Purpose and values of the organization—its Core Culture—with the Purpose and values of the individual. This fit supports a connection with the organization that can positively impact retention. Culture fit alone will not give you the ideal candidate, but together with job fit, you will have the formula for hiring the right candidate for the job at your company.
Define the Core Culture
Screening for Culture Fit Begins with Defining Core Culture
To screen for culture fit, you must first define the culture of your organization. To understand the culture, you must look inside your organization to uncover its Core Culture. Think of your organization as a system of concentric circles—labeled the Five Ps. The core of your organization’s culture is in the shared center—at the organization’s core.
Core Culture is the essence of your organization’s culture. It is those few shared beliefs and values that serve as the foundation for why you’re in business and the framework for how you do your work. Core Culture consists of the central three Ps—the vital Purpose, the distinctive and enduring Philosophy, and the strategic Priorities that employees value. Core Culture is the heart and soul of the organization. To understand what the three Ps are for your organization, begin in the very center with your organization’s Purpose. As you discover what is meant by the Purpose, think about what it is for your organization and whether or not you are hiring people who find that Purpose meaningful.
The Purpose of the organization is the most central component of Core Culture. The Purpose defines why the organization exists. The Purpose is not the answer to the question “What does the organization do?” which typically focuses on products, services and customers. Instead, it is the answer to the question, “Why is the work of this company important?” This may sound like a simple question, but in its simplicity is significance for the organization and for each employee.
The Purpose is the cause that defines one’s contribution to society through work. Of course, businesses exist to make a profit, but they also exist to make a difference. Through work, employees can do meaningful work that makes a difference, and they can be part of a meaningful legacy. When the Purpose of the organization is meaningful to an employee, it provides a connection to work that is not just rational: it’s also emotional. When employees see the Purpose as challenging and meaningful, work is more than a job—it’s a cause that makes a difference in people’s lives.
A Purpose statement is only a few words, but they are important words because they inspire and motivate employees who care about making that contribution. The Purpose statement is brief so employees remember it and use it to guide their daily actions. Additionally, the Purpose statement is broad in scope to allow the organization to adapt over time to a changing world while its central focus remains constant. This broad perspective opens the organization to endless possibilities. Products and services often change, but the Purpose endures. Companies are living entities; they are vehicles for improving life and the world we live in.
If the organization’s Purpose is one that matters to an applicant, then working there can contribute to a meaningful life which enhances engagement in one’s work.
Key Points about Purpose
The Purpose of the organization is the fundamental reason why the organization exists.
- The organization’s Purpose is central and enduring to the culture of the organization.
- The organization’s Purpose is the cause that defines the employee’s contribution to society through work.
- The Purpose statement is the answer to the question: Why is this work important?
- A Purpose statement is brief in length and broad in scope.
Questions to Uncover the Purpose
To uncover the Purpose, ask two questions (although the second question may need to be asked several times to get to the Purpose):
- What is the purpose of this organization?
- Why is that important?
Criteria for a Purpose Statement
The Six Purpose Criteria
- Is it a contribution to society—not a product or service?
- Does it answer the question: Why is the work we do important?
- Does it inspire and motivate?
- Does it use powerful words?
- Is the statement brief in length?
- Is the statement broad in scope?
Deciding the Purpose
Together with all employees, decide the Purpose of the organization by asking the Purpose questions and uncovering the Purpose that meets all six criteria. This Purpose defines the contribution that the organization—and its employees—make to society. And it is the first filter to use in evaluating culture fit for an applicant. You must evaluate if this Purpose is personally meaningful to the applicant.
Just outside of the Purpose, in the three Ps of Core Culture, is the organization’s Philosophy. Where the Purpose states “why” the organization exists, the Philosophy directs “how” employees do their work. And “how” you do work matters. The Philosophy directs behavior across the organization. In successful organizations, employees consistently use the Philosophy to guide their decisions and daily actions.
The Philosophy may be one value or a small set of values. Many values may seem important, but the Philosophy is the value or values that are fundamental, distinguishing and enduring to the organization. They are the beliefs that have been essential and core to the character of the organization over the years. Employees believe that their Philosophy distinguishes their organization from others, particularly their competitors. And the Philosophy is the enduring core beliefs that typically do not change. The Philosophy is extremely important.
The Philosophy is like the personality or character of the organization. This personality or character is typically derived from the organization’s founder, or from the principles and ideals that drove the organization’s creation.
If a company has had a lot of change, it is often the leader who sets the tone for the Philosophy of the organization. The leader impacts the character of the organization and its vision.
The Philosophy is what employees value today, what was most important in the past and what will continue to be important in the future. Where the Purpose provides the foundation for why the organization exists, the Philosophy provides the framework for how that Purpose is delivered in a distinctive way. The Purpose is the heart of the organization, and the Philosophy is its soul.
When determining if the culture of a workplace is a good match for an applicant, in addition to screening for fit with the Purpose of the organization, you must also evaluate whether or not an applicant shares values that are aligned with the company’s character, its distinctive Philosophy. Finding candidates who obsess about “how” you do things at your company will produce a workplace where employees live the principles consistently. And consistent employee behaviors provide a predictable customer experience.
Key Points about Philosophy
The Philosophy of the organization is a value or small set of values that are fundamental, distinguishing and enduring to the organization.
- The Philosophy is the special value or set of values that the founder possesses that has influenced the character of the organization.
- The Philosophy is the source of the organization’s distinctiveness.
- The Philosophy provides the enduring framework for “how” employees do their work.
Questions to Uncover the Philosophy
A few questions can reveal the Philosophy of the organization—its distinctive personality and character—guiding how employees do your work:
- What value is fundamental and distinctive to our organization since its founding?
- What special attribute does our company’s founder possess that has influenced the character of the organization?
- What ideals drove the organization’s creation?
- What makes this organization feel different from other companies in the same business?
- What is central to who we are as an organization that should never change?
Criteria for the Philosophy
The Five Philosophy Criteria
- Is it a prime value?
- Does it guide “how” employees work?
- Do employees consider it a source of the organization’s distinction?
- Is it derived from the organization’s founder or the ideals that drove the organization’s creation?
- If changed, would that alter the personality or character of the organization?
Decide the Philosophy
Together with all employees, decide the Philosophy of the organization by asking the Philosophy questions and uncovering the Philosophy that meets all five criteria. This Philosophy is the value or set of values that are central and distinctive to the culture since its founding. Therefore, this personality or character must be a fit with each employee. The harmony between the organization’s Philosophy and the values of the applicant is another filter to use in evaluating culture fit.
Priorities are the third component of Core Culture. Priorities guide “how” the Purpose and the Philosophy are put into practice. Think of Priorities as “strategic” values. Priorities are the values that will enable the organization to achieve its goals. Therefore, you must know your goals to define your organization’s Priorities.
Only a few Priorities are central to all areas of the organization. These are the key values that leaders and managers are focusing on—throughout the organization—to enable the organization to compete and thrive.
Also, specific areas of an organization may have additional Priorities that are unique to the area. The goals and objectives of each area inform the area Priorities.
In selecting people for culture fit, they must be aligned with both the organization-wide Priorities and the area Priorities where they will be working.
Priorities are relatively stable, but Priorities can change when the organization’s strategy changes. Also, new leaders often bring with them new goals that can affect Priorities. Altering Priorities is a way to shape culture and bring needed change.
Organizations must hire people who genuinely value and will naturally practice the organization-wide Priorities and the area Priorities where they will be working.
Key Points about Priorities
The Priorities of the organization are the strategic values that enable the organization to achieve its goals.
- Priorities are the standards for behavior that direct how the Purpose and Philosophy are put into practice.
- Organization-wide Priorities are limited to a small number of values that are important to all areas of the organization.
- In a particular work group, additional area Priorities may be important to that group.
- Strategy and leadership guide Priorities.
- Priorities are those few values that leaders believe will enhance the competitiveness of the organization and enable it to thrive.
- Priorities are relatively stable, but Priorities can be altered as leaders change and/or as goals change.
- Organization-wide Priorities are determined by the focus of the top leadership of the organization. Area Priorities are determined by the focus of those who manage the area where the employee works.
- Fit with Priorities means that the applicant is a fit with both the organization-wide Priorities and the area Priorities where the applicant would work.
Questions to Uncover the Priorities
A few questions can reveal the Priorities of the organization—its strategic values—guiding how employees work:
- What should we focus on and pay attention to?
- To effectively achieve our goals, what values should guide everyone in how we work?
- What key values, if followed, will allow our organization to compete and thrive?
Criteria for the Priorities
With a list of prospective organization-wide Priorities, evaluate those values against the Priority criteria.
- Is it a key value and important standard to guide behavior throughout the organization?
- Do top leaders believe it will enhance the organization’s ability to compete and thrive?
- Does the value support the organization’s goals?
With a list of prospective area Priorities, evaluate those values against similar Priority criteria.
- Is it a key value and important standard to guide behavior in the area?
- Do area leaders believe it will enhance their area and the ability to thrive?
- Does the value support the area goals?
Decide the Priorities
Together with all employees, decide the organization-wide Priorities by asking the organization-wide Priorities questions and uncovering the Priorities that meet all criteria. Additionally, understand the area Priorities for where the applicant will work. These area Priorities must be decided by those of that particular area. The harmony between the organization-wide Priorities and area Priorities and the values of the applicant is another filter to use in evaluating an applicant for culture fit.
With a clearly defined Core Culture, you are positioned to design your selection processes so that you hire the right people for the culture of your organization—people who connect with the cause of the organization and who genuinely value and will naturally practice those few Core Culture principles.
Screen for Culture Fit
To ensure that you are selecting people who are a fit with your culture, evaluate your hiring practices. You want to hire people who will be a fit with the Core Culture—who find the work meaningful and are in harmony with the values of the culture.
To screen for culture fit, consider these five questions about your recruitment and selection practices:
- Do recruitment materials reflect the Core Culture?
- Do recruitment practices—before and after the candidate interview– support the Core Culture?
- When meeting with job applicants, do you talk about the organization’s culture?
- Do you model the Core Culture when meeting with candidates?
- Do you interview for culture fit?
Evaluate Your Recruitment Materials
Do recruitment materials reflect the Core Culture?
The way to get the right employees is to start out with a lot of good choices. Having well-constructed recruitment messages providing details that illuminate the culture of the workplace can affect job seekers’ perceptions of fit and thus influence their intentions to apply for positions (Roberson, Collins, & Oreg; Journal of Business and Psychology, 2005).
Think about the print materials you produce for job applicants as well as your internet communications. Because the internet is a commonly used resource for finding jobs, evaluate how you communicate online with potential applicants. Examine your website and the job applicant portal, in particular, as well as your pages on Facebook, Linked In, blogs or your communications through Twitter and others. Are you communicating your Core Culture beliefs at the first step of the recruitment process? Do those materials and communications align with your Core Culture? Do they share the Purpose, Philosophy and Priorities of your organization? Do they make it clear what’s important to your company, its contribution and character?
One example of aligning a recruitment message with the culture is the following information taken from the Disney website for job applicants. Disney is a company known for its Purpose—to make people happy—and they do it through the distinctive Philosophy of imagination. Disney is a place where they make dreams come true. On their website for job applicants it stated,
Welcome to The Walt Disney Company! Yes, there really are dream jobs. Here, the bottom line is imagination, our culture is magic and wonder, and required previous work experience: childhood dreams. Think of all the laughter, astonishment, joy and thrills that have come from this one place. Movies, Animation, News and Sports, Music, Television, Books, Theme Parks and Resorts. After all, a company built on imagination and wonder means the work will be interesting. And always will be. There’s room for talented people. It’s a dream job.
Their website for job candidates already begins the screening process to bring in people who are the right fit for their culture.
Communicating the company’s Purpose and values upfront helps filter out candidates who are not a fit. Your recruitment materials are a valuable resource for sharing your Core Culture in the first step of the hiring process.
Evaluate Your Recruitment Practices
Do your recruitment practices—before and after the candidate interview– support the Core Culture?
What practices do you use to get applicants? And are those practices aligned with your Core Culture? For example, at the Whole Foods Market, one of their values is teamwork. The fundamental work unit is the self-directed team. Therefore, job fairs are generally staffed by the actual leadership that the new team members will be working with. Also, after the candidate interview, prospective employees have a four-week probation period where the team decides whether or not the applicant stays after that trial period. Their selection practices align with their culture of teamwork
Many companies have an initial phone conversation with the candidate to screen for the core values and evaluate how well informed the candidate is about the culture. Any aspects of the culture that would make the person feel like a mismatch should be communicated at this time. For example, if it’s a noisy workplace or a hierarchical workplace or whatever it’s like there, the applicant should know upfront to ensure time is not wasted on the part of the individual or the organization in the hiring process.
Southwest Airlines believes that behavior is the best predictor of behavior. Being a service leader, they want to hire people who naturally have that warm, friendly service attitude. When a candidate calls for an application, managers jot down anything memorable about the conversation. And when the company flies recruits for interviews, they receive special tickets, which alert gate agents and flight attendants to pay special attention to how they are behaving to determine whether the recruits are a natural fit for their service culture.
In the recruitment process, some companies have employees spend informal time with recruits in social settings like a meal or attending a company event. These informal settings are prime opportunities for evaluating for culture fit—both for the applicant and the company.
At Zappos.com, after a person is hired and at the end of the first week of training, the company offers the new employee $2,000 plus the time he or she worked to quit. And the offer continues until the end of the fourth week of training. They want only those people who love their culture to stay. Again, these selection practices are established to build a strong culture with employees whose values are aligned with the culture.
Giving applicants the opportunity to see the culture and understand the way things work in the organization offers applicants a way to screen the organization themselves.
Interview for fit with the Purpose
Are you hiring people who want to make their contribution to society through the work that you do? Are they passionate about the Purpose of your organization? It’s easier to retain employees who are passionate about their organization’s Purpose.
In your interview process, try to discover whether or not your organization’s Purpose is a match for each candidate you interview. Consider asking these questions:
- What causes matter to you?
- What issues are you drawn to and personally care about?
- What do you aspire to do in your life through your work?
- Why do you want to work in this industry?
Through these questions, discover if the applicant finds your organization’s work a personally meaningful contribution to society. Is this a cause that the applicant really cares about? Is the person a fit with the Purpose of the organization?
Be sure that you include behavioral interview questions. These are questions that ask “How did you…” rather than “How would you….” The goal of a behavioral interview question is to determine if the applicant has exhibited the behaviors you seek—not whether the person can just talk about how they hypothetically would exhibit the behaviors. Behavioral interview questions might also start with the words: “Tell me about a time when…,” or “Give me an example of a time when…,” or “Describe a situation when….” In a behavioral interview question, the applicant will explain a specific situation from a real life experience, their actions and the outcome. You are not looking for hypothetical responses; instead, you want real examples.
Some behavioral interview questions to evaluate whether the Purpose of the organization is meaningful to the applicant:
- Have you worked in an organization where you felt that the work of the company was meaningful to you? If yes, explain.
- Describe an event or experience in your life that has driven you to care about the work that we do.
Interview for fit with the Philosophy and Priorities
With an understanding of the organization’s Philosophy and Priorities, create interview questions that evaluate the alignment of an applicant’s values with the organization’s values. Questions to reveal a candidate’s values and fit might be:
- Describe the kind of work environment you prefer.
- Have you worked in an organization where the values important at the company were also values important to you? If yes, explain.
- In what ways do you think you are a fit with the values of our culture?
- Why do you want to work for us rather than our competitors?
Next, ask questions to determine if the candidate has exhibited in past situations the values of the organization—the Philosophy and Priorities. These behavioral interview questions help discover if the applicant has lived the values of the organization.
Examples of these types of questions, listed by values are as follows:
- Caring: Would you say you are more or less caring than the average person? Can you give an example?
- Professionalism: How would you describe professionalism? Describe a situation in the past where you exhibited professionalism in your work.
- Diversity: Give an example of how you worked to foster diversity in your workplace.
- Collaboration: Tell me about a time when you collaborated with others outside of your work group.
- Customer service: Give an example of how you handled an unhappy customer.
- Safety: Describe a situation when you demonstrated the importance of safety in your job.
Tailor your questions to specific issues that are common to your organization. The more tailored the question is to your culture, the better opportunity you will have to get a response that has not been pre-planned by the applicant.
Interview questions should also focus on how the applicant would apply the organization’s values in their future job at the company. For example, if cost control is one of the organization’s values, then you might ask applicants how they would decrease costs in their new job. If collaboration is one of the organization’s values, another question might be: How will you enhance collaboration in your work to make it better than it is today? If the culture values safety, be sure to get applicants’ ideas on how they would incorporate a greater focus on safety in their new job. You want to hire people who can make a contribution to the organization’s culture by offering new and interesting ways to more effectively live the culture each day. An interview question might focus on how the applicant has strengthened the culture of a previous employer.
Give applicants an opportunity to ask questions so they understand the culture and what is valued. Also, observe whether or not the applicant is knowledgeable about the company. Is the applicant only screening the job or is the applicant also screening the organization, as well? Those applicants who have taken the time to understand the organization are better candidates because they are looking for a broader fit.
Onsite visits give an opportunity to observe an applicant’s behavior. For example, at Southwest Airlines, they want to hire people who naturally have that warm, friendly service attitude. During group interviews of flight attendants, applicants give three-minute speeches about themselves in front of about 50 people. Managers are watching the audience as closely as the speaker. Candidates who pay attention pass the test; those who seem bored or distracted do not pass. Seeing how recruits interact with people helps them hire individuals who naturally will keep their customers happy. Southwest looks for people with the right “spirit,” and will hire for attitude—their sense of humor and positive attitude—and train for skills.
The hiring process should be a team effort. Those who will be working regularly with the candidate should be included in the interview process. Provide a variety of interview settings—like a breakfast, lunch or dinner—to determine if the applicant demonstrates the values that the organization seeks.
If it can be arranged, set up a way for the candidate to role play the job they would be performing. This opportunity can help the candidate get a real preview of the work and allow the company to assess the applicant.
Once you align your hiring practices with the Core Culture, you are ready to screen applicants for culture fit. Where there is synchrony between the individual and the culture of the company, there will be a greater likelihood that the person will feel connected to the company and want to stay with it.
Use your organization’s culture to manage retention. When you hire people who are a fit with the culture, there is a greater likelihood that they will want to stay.
First, you must define your Core Culture:
- The vital Purpose: the fundamental reason why the organization exists—Why is the work you do important?
- The distinctive and enduring Philosophy: the prime value or set of values that are the character and personality of the organization.
- The strategic Priorities: those few values that are essential to all areas of the organization and to the area where the applicant will work that will enable the organization to compete and thrive
Then, be sure your hiring—your recruitment materials, recruitment practices and interview process—is aligned with your Core Culture so that you are effectively screening for culture fit. It is essential to hire people who naturally value the Core Culture attributes that are central to the organization.
Think of culture as your distinctive advantage—as your unique fingerprint.
Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines, put it this way, “Everything (in our strategy) our competitors could copy tomorrow. But they can’t copy the culture—and they know it.”
Think of your culture as the basis for your business success. Former IBM Chairman and CEO Louis Gerstner, Jr. stated in Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?, “Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization’s makeup and success — along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like. I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game; it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.”
To build your culture of distinction, you must define your Core Culture and then hire people who personally connect to the Core Culture, and want to live by it. Use your unique culture to manage retention and drive your organization’s success.