According to a previous study by Leadership IQ, 46% of newly-hired employees will fail within 18 months of being hired, while only 19% will achieve unquestioned success. Surprisingly, only 11% will fail because they lack the necessary technical skills to do the job.
The primary sources of hiring failures in the study traced back to how an employee interacted within the hiring organization. For example, 26% of new hires failed because they couldn’t accept feedback as delivered by peers and superiors. 23% failed because they were unable to appropriately manage their emotions. 17% failed because they lacked the necessary motivation to excel. 15% failed because they had the wrong temperament for the job.
It is reasonable to ask, assuming that the initial decision to hire was based on a track record of success elsewhere, why the high rates of failure? Notably, none of the primary shortfalls highlighted in the study were failures against an objective performance standard. Rather, the highlighted failures were shortcomings as defined against the requirements imposed by a specific company culture.
The culture of a corporation includes the sum of attitudes, mores, beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s leadership, stakeholders and employees interact with each other, and how they execute market-facing business transactions. Culture is a shared understanding of the way employees should behave. It specifies an appropriate communication style, the amount of openness expected and exhibited, how feedback is given and received, how crises are addressed, how problems are solved, and much more. Culture is an organization’s shared idea of how the world works.
A company’s culture develops over time with heavy influence from the cumulative traits of the people a company hires. Corporate culture likewise and conversely influences individual behaviors. A company’s culture will be reflected in its dress code, office setup, employee benefits, turnover, hiring decisions, loyalty, social interactions, treatment of clients and every other aspect of its operations.
Unfortunately, corporate culture is seldom expressly defined, making it easy to overlook during a hiring exercise that is heavily focused on proving out technical competence. Hiring managers must be constantly aware that whenever a company hires a new or replacement employee, it introduces change into the company culture. A company with a strong culture and many employees is more protected than a small company with a weak or fractured culture.
All new employees bring with them a lifetime of beliefs and behaviors. If those beliefs and behaviors differ from the culture of the company that hired them, there is the potential for unsolicited change. If a company wants to preserve, or even enhance, its company culture, it needs to hire and retain employees whose beliefs, behaviors, and values align closely with the company’s culture to lessen the pressure to change the culture, whether formally or informally.
Here are five suggestions to enhance your organization’s ability to screen for cultural success in your next key hire:
- Put your company culture into words. Continuously refine your ability to verbalize the critical elements your corporate culture. If you can’t say it aloud, you don’t understand it. Think of this verbal description as your employment brand. Identify and communicate the organization’s unique beliefs, behaviors and practices. Be open about what motivates the culture to succeed and how that success is rewarded as well as the organization’s social taboo’s, sacred cows and superstitions. To inaccurately spin to a candidate who you are as a company will do you no favors over the long run. The ability to say aloud with honesty, precision and accuracy who you are will allow you to present a consistent message to current and future team members.
- Write a balanced job description. The traditional job description is heavy on the experience, skill, technical, and operational requirements of the job. Yours should be balanced with a description of your employment brand and the cultural requirements to succeed within your organization. Be open and honest. Provide as much detail as possible so candidates can screen themselves out early if they feel your culture doesn’t match their lifestyle.
- Craft a balanced interview strategy. For critical roles, at least one interviewer should be assigned to interview the candidate for cultural fit. A 360-degree approach to interviews that involves a candidate’s potential manager, direct reports, and potential peers can also offer a panoramic view of culture for the candidate.
- Broaden the assessment experience. A thirty-minute phone screen followed by an hour-long face-to-face on-site interview is not likely to offer a solid understanding of cultural fit. Hiring organizations that are good at this consistently invest time with each candidate to measure cultural compatibility. Consider for example inviting a candidate to a company event or social outing. At a minimum, take them out to lunch or dinner and include a few other key colleagues. Gauge not only their social comfort in these settings, but also what kind of questions they ask, what excites them, and how well they seem to fit in the setting.
- Formalize your cultural screening criteria. A simple, commonsense approach to defining cultural screening criteria can be very effective. You can start by asking questions about your top tier performers. What makes them indispensible to the organization? What makes them successful? Identify commonalities and translate those attributes into screening criteria to guide the hiring process. You should likewise ask questions about the trailing tier of performers. What are the attributes that detract from the culture? What are the behaviors that make leaders and managers crazy? Require all interviewers to rank the individual on cultural fit as well as experience and abilities.
Finally, you should remember that culture is continuously defined and refined by the people decisions you make. You should always be recruiting to a desired standard, even when you don’t have specific needs or job openings. Great organizations develop an eye not just for talent, but for the very specific kind of talent that will augment and not destroy their company culture.
JD Bryson brings a tried and proven method for ensuring the right hire for your most critical leadership roles. Please contact us to find out more and learn how we can help you avoid the pitfalls of a bad cultural fit in your next key hire.