Recruiting in the Fourth Dimension

In many ways, Jack was the ideal candidate for International Widget. A respected, high-priced executive search firm had recruited him. After two rounds of technical and structured behavioral interviews, skills testing, and personality profiling, management and HR agreed that he would be a great new hire. Jack got the 15% salary increase he requested as well as a 10% sign-on bonus and three weeks vacation. He came on board and jumped right into his work with enthusiasm. So why after six months of employment was Jack leaving? Despite all the care, time, and expense put into recruiting and selecting Jack, one crucial element had been neglected: No effort was made to see if Jack matched International Widget’s corporate culture. Corporate Culture: The Fourth Dimension of Recruiting When recruiting and selecting new hires, most organizations use one or more sets of qualifiers (dimensions) to determine job fit. In order of use, these dimensions are:

  • Technical skills and knowledge
  • Core business skills or behavioral competencies
  • Personal attributes

By adding a fourth dimension ó corporate culture ó hiring managers and human resources can better determine cultural fit: that is, whether the candidate will be able to fully utilize the other three dimensions in the organization (maximize performance) and be satisfied doing so (retention). Corporate culture can be defined as the sum of the values of an organization along with the statements, policies, procedures and informal behaviors that support these values. Culture is how we do things, not what we do. In that sense, an organization’s culture is similar to an individual’s behavioral competencies. Further, cultures are neither good nor bad. They exist whether we are conscious of them or set out to develop them. In order to use the fourth dimension to ensure that top performers are consistently recruited, hired, and retained, an organization must engage in the following steps:

  1. Identify the organization’s dominant culture and subcultures
  2. Align the organization’s people practices to support the dominant culture
  3. Develop and utilize recruiting and selection tools to determine cultural fit
  4. Monitor the process on an ongoing basis to ensure continued added value

Here is an opportunity for human resources to add value to their company. The same skills that we use to conduct a job analysis or to develop selection tools for job fit can be used to determine cultural fit. Our ability to influence others will be needed to convince management to incorporate corporate culture into the hiring process. Our existing training skills can also be used to bring hiring managers up to speed on this added dimension. Most important, bottom line success can be measured in dollars through the records we currently keep on recruiting and turnover. 1. Identifying Your Organization’s Culture There are many cultural paradigms. To illustrate how recruiting in the fourth dimension works, we’ll be focusing on two of the most common organizational cultures: “customer focused” and “process focused.” The Dominant Culture While organizations may have many cultures, one culture usually has the greatest influence on how a company operates. To identify this dominant culture, start at the top by reviewing the organization’s formal vision, mission, and value statements. Count the number of times you see trigger words, such as: client, customer, service, execution, etc. Where do these words appear in the documents ó upfront or last in the list? Next look at written performance objectives. Are they primarily expressed as dollar results, or do they include activities or competencies? If so, which ones? The inclusion of activities and competencies may indicate that the organization is as interested in how a job is done as it is in what gets accomplished. For example, a customer-focused organization may have objectives addressing the number of visits to clients, response times to customer requests, or customer satisfaction survey scores. A process-focused organization, on the other hand, may have objectives about adherence to company policies and procedures or numerical objectives regarding various aspects of execution of assignments. In line with objectives are how and why employees are compensated. Look not only at annual merit increase and bonus policies, but also at spot awards, special incentive programs and non-monetary awards. Examine work and organizational structures, along with other work documents (reports, job aids, workflow instructions, manuals, standards)m for cultural clues. Here, too, use word counts and list order. A customer-focused culture will be externally focused while a process-focused culture will be internally focused. What kinds of training are offered? Are there lots of “soft” skill offerings that train in customer service, listening skills, etc.? Or is the training technical or on procedures, work flow, and authority limits? Be sure to conduct reality checks, as well, like the following:

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  • Ask employees to tell you the company’s vision, mission, or value statements. If they can’t do this in their own words, you may need to realign practices with the stated cultural values.
  • Check the weights on written objectives. Anything less than a weight of 15% and employees and the managers may discount the objective.
  • Note if training classes are required. How many and which employees attend them?
  • Determine if managers re-enforce training by requiring the use of skills learned.
  • Talk to both management and individual contributors about the organization’s culture. Do you get consistent responses among and between these levels of employees? Note the gaps.
  • Keep in mind that good consultants ó whether they are employees or from outside the organization ó need to be a bit skeptical. You owe your employer/client an honest appraisal of the organization’s culture.

Okay, so your organization doesn’t have a written vision statement or formal performance management process, nor any training programs. This may also be a strong cultural clue. Often, entrepreneurial-focused cultures don’t commit the time to these people practices, which is a major consideration when recruiting and hiring new employees. In the absence of these cultural indicators, use the reality checks noted above. Subcultures Companies that have not made a conscious effort to create and reinforce an organization-wide culture will frequently have mini-cultures popping up on their own. These may be the products of long-standing work teams, unique management styles, and work practices handed down over the years. For each subculture, HR and hiring managers may want to develop a specific set of recruiting and selection tools or cultural criteria. Cultures in Motion Another important indicator of an organization’s culture is where the company is in its lifecycle. In start-up mode, companies are risk oriented and have little in the way of written policies and procedures, formal job descriptions, or work procedures. Mature companies put standards, policies, and practices in writing. Staff groups such as accounting or human resources gain more influence. Your organization may be also be close to a lifecycle change, requiring that candidates be able to perform in two very different company cultures. 2. Aligning Human Resources Practices to Support the Corporate Culture This article does not permit enough space to fully cover all of the potential interventions that may be required to bring your organization’s culture into alignment. IF in identifying your organization’s dominant culture you found that:

  • There is a gap between what managers and individual contributors say and what they do
  • The organization’s objectives do not flow from its vision, mission statement, and stated values
  • Compensation and rewards do not reinforce the desired culture
  • Standards and practices do not reflect the organization’s culture

THEN your organization’s culture may be significantly out of alignment. For a practical guide on interventions to bring your organization into cultural alignment, or to address other performance issues, I suggest you read, The Performance Consultant’s Handbook, by Judith Hale (Josey-Bass/Pfeiffer San Francisco, 1998) In Part 2 of this article series, we’ll look at steps 3 and 4: how you can use your corporate culture in recruiting and selection once you’ve identified it.

John Miraglia is an organizational effectiveness professional with expertise in recruitment, applicant assessment and talent reviews, performance management, and learning and development. He has extensive experience in the financial services industry. He resides with his family in central New Jersey.


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