Company Culture: Your New Secret Recruiting Weapon

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 2.57.24 PMRecruiting is an arms war, with rapidly advancing technology and complexity. At stake is the future of your company. Social media has changed the game, raising expectations of the applicant experience and making everything faster and more connected. Employees and prospects have the upper hand and our tactics have to keep up.

But we can all name companies that are snagging (and keeping) top talent. So beyond the most recent recruiting weapons, what one thing is helping them win that race?

Company culture.

What’s Culture?

Company culture is defined as the set of pervasive values, beliefs, and attitudes that characterize a company. It’s what attracts job seekers and keeps employees. It’s not a box to be checked. It’s not a framed mission statement in the lobby. It’s not office decor. Culture is something woven throughout every aspect of the organization. In marketing they call it “brand” — what people are saying about you when they think you are not listening.

Culture plays a driving role in HR. It connects recruiting the right people to designing a benefit plan that supports your mission and values to how performance is measured to where the company party is held. It sets expectations for performance, employee and customer communications, and day-to-day interactions. It creates a structure and set of expectations that allow employees to operate from a place of passion and empowerment. An intentional culture can increase employee engagement, boost service quality, and as a result increase profits.

Building an Intentional Culture

Your company has a culture even if you aren’t actively shaping or defining it. If you’re not being intentional about fostering the culture you want, random forces can create a weak or even negative culture. Here’s how to get intentional:

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  • Hire for cultural fit. It’s hard to resist a great resume, killer accomplishments, an intriguing background, and an engaging interview. But try you must. If someone doesn’t embrace and fit with the company culture, they’re going to have a tough time succeeding. It’s common for someone who’s a great cultural fit (but who might be lacking some relevant experience) to ramp up and accomplish great things. Conversely, it’s equally common for people who looked great on paper to flame out for reasons of fit.
  • Align culture to corporate strategy. Identify your company’s top business priorities, such as market share, profit growth, mission, or brand. Then identify how you will achieve those goals: e.g. efficiency, quality, innovation, amazing customer service, etc … Then invest in culture to support those goals and strategies. For instance, if efficiency is the lifeblood of your survival and success, your culture will probably feature communication process and analytics. If it’s innovation, it will reward support for risk-taking, a bias for action and consistent recognition of new ideas.
  • Start weaving culture through the company. Based on your strategic business priorities, take the key components of culture and decide how they inform various functions, from workforce planning to compensation and rewards. Are they in your values? Your goals? Do you promote based on culture-building and reprimand for culture-damaging activities?

Marketing Your Culture to Top Talent

While most companies have nailed the process to find someone with the skills they need, at a rate they can afford, interviewing and recruiting with culture fit in mind is a bit more difficult. You have to incorporate your story, your culture, and your perks into your recruitment marketing materials. Before a candidate even clicks “Apply” — they should feel what it is like to have been there for years. Here’s where to direct your efforts:

  • Community and public relations. If you have something great going on, make sure your community knows about it. Apply for relevant awards and tell stories you want prospective employees to read. For example, if volunteerism is a key cultural attribute you seek in candidates, share your commitment by encouraging leaders and employees to volunteer — and speak into the camera.
  • Company website and careers homepage. This is likely the first place job seekers will look, so showcase an authentic employee experience. You can do this with “day in the life” posts, recaps of events or an explanation of your company values. And get specific here — if you value work-life balance, show exactly what that means.
  • Candidate communication. Engage candidates before they apply and beyond. From the first time they hear about your company to the first day they start on the job, all communication should be consistent, on-brand, and aligned with your culture. Set expectations before the offer letter that culture matters. Be meticulous with the written word.
  • Social media. You might focus your social media efforts on your customers or acquiring leads, but this is also a great way to showcase your culture. Offer an insider glimpse into your company with blog posts, photos of events and quotes from executives. This will paint a full picture of what it means to work at your company — and it will generate the right kind of candidates.

As you review your recruitment marketing strategy, dig deep into what job seekers are seeing, hearing and learning about your company at every touchpoint before they even apply.  This means taking a hard, honest look at your website and social channels, stalking yourself on career websites and forums, and always asking candidates how and what they know about you.

One final thought: Keep in mind what mom told us about making friends: Be yourself. When you own who are you are, you attract people who truly belong. And that’s how you win the talent war.

Henry Albrecht founded Limeade in 2006 and has led the company from an idea in his basement to a high-growth, industry-leading corporate wellness company serving some of the greatest health systems and companies in the world. As CEO, Henry focuses on making Limeade a model employer by delivering results for its customers and shareholders via an engaged, high-energy, high-performance workforce. Henry is an irreverent writer and speaker at leading national conferences on topics like health care reform, behavioral science, well-being engagement and cultural alignment. Before founding Limeade, Henry was a VP of Product Management at an enterprise software company and a product and marketing leader at Intuit, where he launched a number of successful new multi-million dollar businesses under the QuickBooks brand. 


7 Comments on “Company Culture: Your New Secret Recruiting Weapon

  1. Corporate culture is only a weapon for those companies with a decent corporate culture to sell. However, corporate culture isn’t even a ‘thing’ on the radar of most small and medium sized businesses, which are the majority of them out there. Their HR department usually consists of one or two people whose focus is compliance, not performance of higher level issues like defining and pushing a good culture. They are much less aware that culture comes from the top down; it is the direct result of how a company is managed. Bad managers, especially the higher up in an org chart that you go, will routinely have concerns with, or outright despise the culture that they themselves have created, but take absolutely zero ownership of changing it. Instead they regard it as a family pet, which has been shown nothing but love as far as they’re concerned, and which just started biting people out of no where one day.

    Until company owners and managers are willing to own the fact that they determine the culture, I don’t see many following these steps to change.

  2. “Living out company culture” is what I titled my notes from this insightful post. It’s very difficult to comprehend how an organization’s values result in reinforcing action that promotes who “we” are. And in line with Medieval Recruiter’s comments, it is our job as HR to facilitate the discussion across the company which should result in managers and executives modeling the culture daily.

  3. I would disagree. There is feedback from the bottom, but it is those at the top who determine how a company is managed, and how it is managed determines the culture. Those who don’t want to be managed in that manner can try to influence change, but more often than not in my experience they simply find a more agreeable culture and move there at the earliest opportunity. It’s also been my experience that trying to change company culture is next to impossible in the short, medium, or long term.

    Where else can a corporate culture come from but the top? They determine how the company is run, they determine who is hired, who is retained, who is promoted, and who is let go, as well as the marketing around the issue of just what the company is, what it does, and where it’s going. When upper management doesn’t own their role in creating the culture of their company, it’s usually because they don’t like that culture, and want someone else to blame for what they dislike, even when it is demonstrated that everything they don’t like is reflected in their own actions, every day.

  4. People at the top usually don’t create the local culture, language, customs, etc. Businesses are not born from the ether; they all started somewhere and that somewhere brings a heavy influence. What does “the top” even mean? The very senior people? How about the top 25%? How about line and staff leaders longitudinally? How about industry culture? Isn’t every car plant, strip club, or machine shop somewhat the same?

    If we are just using the word culture as a synonym for positioning or messaging, its not even close to the real vectors of culture….

    1. The top means those people with managerial authority to dictate policy to those below them. A line manager creates the culture for his group, the people above him create the culture for him, etc., etc. Those who manage are responsible, period. They set the policies, they enforce them, they hire, they retain, they promote, they fire. We’re not talking about broader aspects of culture like language, we’re talking about those aspects of culture specific to this or that workplace. Every plant and strip club is most definitely not the same. Some strip clubs offer ‘services’ that are illegal, and abuse the women there to the point of sex slavery. Other treat them well and pay them well.

      I’m aware of two manufacturers which started in the same state around the same time, and are roughly in the same business of textiles,/garments, etc. One is run by a guy who is a little clueless but otherwise a decent guy. When he found out his employees were under paid he started slowly raising people’s salaries. He’s a soft spoken guy, little to no animosity is evident in his demeanor. The other is run by a lunatic who gets his jollies by screaming at people and demeaning them. Salaries are minimum wage level low, employee morale is through the floor, turnover is through the roof, and he doesn’t care. He considers himself a paragon of business in the area, an example others should follow.

      Those companies have very, very different cultures. The former is way more open, relaxed, and productive. The latter is tense, uptight, with everyone’s primary goal not being to do their job, but to avoid dealing with the owner, and then as a secondary priority to do their actual job. And in each case, be it strip club or manufacturer, it is the managers that set the tone and determine the culture of the company.

  5. Basic justification for authoritarianism, which is a fallacy. There are multiple kinds of power, and explicit given power only goes so far. RARELY does official authority exceeds the implicit power within a culture, whose power-actors may not even be easily identifiable. Your little asshole factory owner doubtless has a group of henchpeople, and doubtless it’s THOSE folks set the tone….

    1. Which is what I said. And he hired them, so how is he not responsible? He is the one who decided to reward and retain based on fawning rather than performance, how is he not responsible?

      I have been involved in a few attempts to change cultures now, and in all the cases where there was success, without exception, it was always to the degree the management was willing to own the culture and change it themselves by changing how they behaved and how they managed people. I’ve never seen an aspect of corporate culture that wasn’t ultimately traceable back to how the company was managed.

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