Where Does Culture Start?
Award-winning workplaces will say that a strong workplace culture starts with hiring, leading to the practice of including “cultural fit” as a factor in interview assessments. Unfortunately, the reality for most organizations is that gauging fit is nothing more than a gut instinct, often vaguely described as, “You’ll know it when you see it.” While there is certainly value in weighing how a hire will enhance your organization’s culture – with our “gut” sometimes allowing us to identify either reasons for optimism or true red flags – the subjectivity of an undefined approach can carry significant risk of unconscious biases.
We all have the tendency to like other people that are similar to ourselves, aptly referred to as the “like-me” bias. Having commonalities with someone – such as attending the same alma mater, knowing the same contacts, or having a similar hobby – can create an instant affinity for another person.
The danger comes from over-valuing this natural affinity and mistaking it for what it means to be a culture fit.
When hiring decisions are made on affinity only, teams are slowly but surely homogenized. There may be a surface-level positive culture in the short term, but you will ultimately lose out on the innovation, healthy conflict, and productivity that more-diverse teams are proven to have.
Getting Away from Gut Instincts
So how do we assess candidates on fit while reducing the effects of unconscious biases? We need a common yard stick that all candidates can be measured against.
We shift our focus from the personality of the candidate to the likelihood that a candidate aligns with our organization’s values, beliefs, and behaviors.
The first step is ensuring your organization has defined values and beliefs. It’s also important to note that ideal organizational values, especially if they are shared externally, should be equally attractive to people of differing backgrounds. For example, a study in the Journal of Business and Psychology showed that men were more likely than women to pursue a job with a “competitive” organization. However, both men and women reported stronger interest in working for a “supportive” organization, even though the salary would be lower. If you find that you are not starting with a diverse talent pool, perhaps your company values – or at least the perception of your values – is deterring some talent segments.
At Sendero, our culture is rooted in our five core values (Respect, Passion, Integrity, Shared Success, and Higher Reaching). We identified demonstrable behaviors for each core value and deeply integrated them into each stage of our interview process. This allows us to more objectively determine whether or not a candidate aligns with our values and therefore will thrive in our culture.
If you are a hiring manager, project manager, or recruiter facing a hiring decision, you can implement these concepts immediately:
- Ask yourself, “What values define my organization’s culture?”
- Come up with three to five indicators that help reflect if someone has each of the values you are seeking.
- Ask each candidate the exact same interview questions, and look for alignment to those indicators you identified.
- Involve multiple interviewers with different experiences throughout the process.
- If you don’t find someone aligned with your organization’s values – that all interviewers agree on – keep looking until you do.
If you are a job seeker, you should be equally concerned with finding the right cultural fit. My favorite tip to give candidates is to ask all interviewers the same questions about their own company culture. This will help you determine if there are common themes in how the culture is described. Some natural variation and personal examples are good, but drastically different answers, vague information, or your culture questions being dismissed altogether could be red flags. As a bonus – using this approach will never leave you empty-handed without any questions to ask at the end of your interview.