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Culture, from a Matchmaker

Culture has long been an important buzzword in the hiring process, even more so in a strong hiring landscape where candidates have options.


No culture is "one size fits all". Candidates prioritizing growth may prefer a challenging work environment with development opportunities as a chance to bet on themselves, whereas candidates prioritizing balance may view a stable, consistent work environment as more aligned with their career and personal goals.


Last week, VACO sponsored the CEO Dinner Series hosted by the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED). Alex Bloom, former CEO of WebAssign, led a conversation on the importance of establishing a culture that resonates through an organization’s most important assets, their people. Alex faced a culture dilemma when joining the organization, having to make several difficult personnel decisions to support the growth of the business.


As the group of business leaders were asked to concisely state the culture of their companies, it was clear each guest had a different opinion on culture, and the culture of an organization was difficult to pinpoint in a concise manner. If culture is difficult to put in to words for a business leader who values culture, just think how difficult it can be to discern a company's culture as a prospective employee during an interview process.


In helping companies find top talent, the better my team understands the culture present in our client's organizations, the better we are able to make the right match. Several of my musings on culture follow:

  1. Define the culture. - A defined culture is necessary during the hiring process and for the current employee base. It is risky to hire or keep people without clearly describing the culture to prospective and current employees. If a hiring manager cannot speak accurately on culture in the interview room, inevitably the company will hire the wrong people over expectation gaps between what the candidates expected and the reality of the position and company.

  2. Do not sell the company to a candidate in an interview. - Be truthful in conversations - about culture, team dynamic, leadership tone at the top, development opportunities, and work expectations. This is the opportunity to ensure the candidate is looking for what you have to offer, and vice versa. Talk candidates out of joining the company before talking a candidate in to joining the company.

  3. Embrace culture shifts, assess fit thereafter. - A company’s culture will inevitably change over time. The culture of a start-up is different from a public company. The employees who got the company from Point A to Point B may not be the same people to get the company from Point B to Point C. Culture shifts may be needed to continue growth. Management must determine who has the resiliency to adjust to ensure the players on the field can grow with the Company. As a culture shift occurs, employees must ensure their needs are also being met.

  4. Ensure company's decisions are driven by its culture. - Every decision a company makes, either through people or product, should be in line with the defined culture. If a company is making decisions that go against its defined culture, then the culture needs to be redefined. Quality-driven service and products can not be as cost-effective as mass dealer.

  5. Hire a management team of diversity - in background and thought. - Hire people who embody the company's culture, and who also bring different skills and backgrounds in order to cover blind spots and promote continuous improvement. If everyone on the team thinks about things in the same way, there won't be viewpoints to push thoughts outside of group-think. Same if everyone on a team has a similar background or upbringing.

Most importantly, the consistent key to defining and maintaining a strong culture through a company's life cycle is transparency.


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