Culture hero

When you’re on the hunt for A players, it’s tempting to use an attractive benefits package to get good people through the door: salary, flexibility, holiday, health insurance and other perks. Particularly in industries where there’s a smaller talent pool to job ratio. But there’s a much better way to find people who will fit in and prosper – and that’s to put culture front and centre when recruiting and hiring.

A great culture allows businesses to be more human – and makes the day-to-day experience of work something more authentic, memorable and meaningful. And this is increasingly what employees are looking for. Study after study shows that candidates – especially younger ones – are more interested working for a company whose values they relate to and purpose they buy into than one that pays more but leaves them cold. They’re after a job that gives them a voice and allows them to make a worthwhile contribution – and if this turns out to be missing, they’ll quickly move elsewhere. Which is financially costly, and can also affect the morale in teams.

I’d like to share a few tips for hiring based on culture and values, so that you can bring in – and keep – the best people to help your company grow.

Map and show your culture

At the heart of culture is a sense of belonging: standards, shared values, expectations, behavioral norms. If you’re going to hire based on culture, you have to be very clear on what these things are. Be honest – define, monitor, measure. What do you mean by culture in your company? Do you have well-defined values and behaviors to reflect and reinforce this? How can you test whether your company culture is reality or a myth? Being able to answer these questions is a prerequisite to hiring based on culture.

Your company culture will inevitably be shaped by your values – and these are only as strong as the behaviors that reflect them. These will, of course, look different in different teams and at various stages of the employee journey. But they should always be personal to your organization. The off-the-shelf values such as ‘integrity’ ‘honesty’ ‘trust’ are almost seen as hygiene factors within today’s talent landscape. They aren’t core values, but values everyone should have. There has to be at least three things that are unique to you - that guide your culture and the actions of your people. A great example is what Airbnb are doing with their values ‘Champion the Mission, Be a host, Every frame matters and Be a cereal entrepreneur’.

Once you have your values clearly mapped and integrated through performance management all around your business, you can start to use them when hiring. How will you show ‘integrity’ in your interviewing process? Potential candidates must be able to see and feel your values for them to really ring true. So a critical part of using culture to recruit the best people is creating experiences that align with your company values from day dot – all the way through the recruitment and hiring process.

Paint a clear picture

There’s what you do – and there’s what you say. These should, of course, reflect each other. Use your employee value proposition (EVP) to paint a compelling picture of your culture and values. You’re effectively setting the goalposts with this, the creative expression of your employer brand.

So don’t be afraid to dial up the culture element of your EVP to make sure you attract the right sort of people. Focus this less on benefits and career opportunities and more on what it’s really like to work at your company – on the kind of experience you want to create.

And, crucially, make sure the language of your EVP reflects your culture and your brand. It has to be authentic – and it should have a personality. If you’re saying the same things in the same clichéd words as everyone else, what is this really telling people about your culture and the experience of working at your company? Your EVP is your shop window. So it should look and feel appealing and reflect what you want people to see on the inside.

Find people who fit

Your EVP should also have naturally fluid boundaries. As societies evolve and working life changes, it will too. Hiring good people will also help you evolve your business and culture in the right direction. So it’s good to have some stretch in your EVP, but it has to be grounded in truth. You need to recruit on your true culture, but also create levers to push. These can be:

  • Leadership – senior leaders taking ownership of culture is a powerful thing; and team managers have enormous influence over day-to-day culture
  • Environment – the physical environment you create can affect mood, interactions and behavior patterns
  • Technology – this shapes people’s day-to-day experience. If you want to have a culture of collaboration, for example, bringing in things like Slack or Google Docs (instead of Word) will help
  • Brand – your reputation can shape your culture and attract the right people to you. How can you give people a taste of what it’s like to be a part of your organization? Things like events, internships, charity support can all offer a glimpse of your values and ways of working.

Make sure you’re looking in the right places for the kind of people you want to hire. We’re seeing a huge increase in data-driven ‘talent matching’ services – organizations using algorithms and AI to sift through large amounts of candidate data and connect suitable candidates with organizations based on shared values. The value of this HR assessment market has been estimated at $100 billion by the HR arm of Deloitte.

But data-matching can only take things so far. The final decision is one for hiring managers and the candidates themselves. And this will always to some extent be based on ‘gut feeling’ and an emotional reaction to people – on both sides. Which is no bad thing. Culture is, after all, fundamentally about human connection.

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

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