July 6, 2018

How to define your company culture and hire the right people

By Ryan Ashton

Categories: Recruitment

By Ryan Ashton


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We’re constantly told how important workplace culture is and hiring for culture fit is a critical way of maintaining that.

Culture, informally, is the implicit personality of your workplace—made up of the shared values, beliefs and behaviors of the people who work there.

Your company culture is often your hiring differentiator. While many different organizations can offer similar roles, it is ultimately the culture that sets you apart.

‘Culture fit’ not only draws the right kind of people to your company, but it allows a new hire to mesh with the existing team, contribute sooner and become more invested in the work that they do. 

Today, as the workplace continues to evolve and change, culture is resonating with potential hires more than ever before, but what can employers do to ensure the right culture fit?

First, understand your culture

It’s a common step to overlook, but you need to be able to answer what your company culture aims to represent.

Without fully understanding your company culture, it’s nearly impossible to hire new employees that fit. But culture isn’t something that can be dictated by senior management to the rest of the company, and it can’t be taken from other companies you admire. It’s something that already exists in your company, you just have to clarify it.

Here’s how you identify your company culture:

  1. Survey or interview a cross-section of staff (including both employees and leadership) about what makes your company unique.
  2. Identify the behaviors, values and attitudes that surface in common threads.
  3. Document it and circulate it to staff to make sure you’re on the right track.

Remember, culture is never a ‘set it and forget it’ exercise. While a company grows, objectives may shift and culture can change. The same can be said when bringing on a ton of new hires or building out a new team in your organization. So it’s important to make sure that you’re routinely surveying your staff to ensure the culture you’ve identified still resonates (by the way, if you only do this once a year, you’re not doing it effectively).

Be upfront

Once your culture has been defined, don’t lock it away in your employee orientation handbook.

Socialize and publicly share your identified culture to help potential hires self-filter. If your company culture or values doesn’t resonate with a job-seeker, they’re less likely to apply, saving you the effort, time and money to interview an applicant only to find out they aren’t the right fit.

Highlight your company culture or values on the ‘about’ page of your website, or include them in your job postings to make it as visible as possible. That way, you can even ask applicants to highlight why they believe they’re a culture fit as part of their application or cover letter.

Informalize interviews

Ensuring a culture fit from day one is one of the most critical things you can do to help your company culture thrive. But while job interviews can be great barometers for whether an employee can contribute to the organization, let’s be real, they’re pretty guarded encounters.

In order to get a real glimpse into whether someone fits the culture of your organization, you may want to consider breaking tradition.

Here are a few ways how you can do that effectively:

  1. Holding interviews in a less formal location where a candidate feels more comfortable, such as a coffee shop or lounge.
  2. Structuring the interview more like an informal conversation—leave the clipboards and notepads in your office.
  3. If you’re a stickler for more old-school practices, there are still opportunities to screen for culture during the traditional Q&A interview process. If you know which values and behaviors you’re looking for, zero in on traits or work history that you feel align.
  4. Ask questions about what else they’re passionate about outside of work—these are great opportunities to learn more about culture fit.
  5. If there’s a member of your staff who is a champion of company culture, involve them in the interview process whenever possible.
  6. Take opportunities to catch the interviewee in unfiltered moments—Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor, recommends walking the interviewee to their car (or just out of the building) after the interview has finished. Outside the formal setting of the job interview, you can learn more about culture fit than you would during standard questions and rehearsed responses.

Culture health check as often as you can

Once the employee is hired, you can’t just pat yourself on the back for hiring the perfect culture fit and walk away.

Make sure your company culture and values are thoroughly explained as part of the orientation or onboarding. Pair the new employee with an orientation partner or ‘culture buddy’ that will better help them understand the behaviors and values that drive the company forward. Schedule some time to chat with the new hire in their first week to see if they have any questions or reservations about their fit, and encourage them to start impacting the culture of the company on their own.

Many say ‘hire for culture, train for skill’—while this isn’t entirely true (hire for both!) it highlights the importance that culture plays, and by following these steps you’ll be able to build a team that is dialed in to your company culture and ready to help you spread it far and wide.

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