Hiring for Culture Fit Pays Off

by Mary Key
Having the right culture can make the difference between being in business or not. Certainly companies recently nominated as the Best Places to Work in Tampa Bay exemplify the importance of having a culture of engaged employees. Research shows that employee engagement is a huge factor in company productivity and success.  Ultimately, it’s the people that make a company great and it’s how they work together that serves as the foundation for the company’s culture. How do you create a strong, positive culture in your workplace? Let’s look at some examples.

The shoe business is tough. Shoes have become a commodity and as with most commodities, price is the name of the game. Undaunted by the odds, on-line shoe retailer, Zappos, started as a small entrepreneurial company and built its business on outstanding customer service. Their mantra is to WOW customers and for shoe aficionados they do – 24 hour turnaround, you can return your shoes for a full refund up to one year after purchase, and women with big feet like size 11 can get variety and speed, two things that used to be nearly impossible with larger sizes. Zappos sold last year to Amazon for just under $1 Billion. Zappos’ CEO, Tony Hsieh, attributes its wild success to a strong culture and paying attention to hiring employees that are a great culture fit. Creating a strong culture is so much of a priority that Zappos’ employees produce and sell The Zappos Culture Book each year; it continues to be a big seller on Amazon.

Locally, myMatrixx CEO, Steve MacDonald, agrees that building a culture is about clearly defining your values. He feels that starting a company from the beginning affords you the opportunity to create any culture you want. Founded in 2001, myMatrixx’s goal is to turn pharmacy and ancillary benefit management into a paperless industry while “delivering an unimaginably great customer experience.” myMatrixx is committed to hiring people that reflect its core values which are: Do the right thing; Respond with care; Serve with passion; Innovate constantly; and Love to learn. According to MacDonald, one of the keys to maintaining a great culture is to adhere to your values in every aspect of your business – hiring, firing and development. myMatrixx selects employees using a systematic behavioral interviewing approach that focuses on the competencies necessary to succeed in a position as well on evidence that a candidate’s values align with the company’s. myMatrixx’s culture has helped them achieve some great accomplishments like consistently being among the TBBJ’s Fast 50 and the Inc. 500/5000.

Companies with a strong, positive culture that aligns with their business goals regularly outperform their competitors. Take Southwest Airlines as an example. Former CEO Herb Kelleher often spoke of “hiring for attitude.” What he went on to explain was the importance of Southwest inviting only those people with a positive customer orientation, sense of humor and strong work ethic to be part of the company. He built the culture by hiring people that modeled the values first. Skills could always be taught later in his estimation. Southwest has been the most successful airline in its industry and one of the best performing companies across industries; it has often won the airline industry’s “triple crown”  (the airline that has the best ratings for bags on-time, customer satisfaction and on-time flights annually).

So how do you hire for culture fit? First you need to get clarity on what your company’s values are. Values are your guiding principles that can’t be compromised for financial gain. Values are your code of ethics and need to be taken seriously. An example of a value might be “integrity” defined as “doing the right thing.” My experience in working with many companies is that the values were once written down by the CEO or one or several of the company’s leaders and never really communicated consistently. Worse yet, behavior that directly contradicts the stated values is sometimes accepted, even rewarded.

So if you haven’t developed your values, now is the time to do so. Getting input from across the company is essential. The question that I like to ask organizations that we work with is: “What is the one value that is so much a part of this company that without it, you wouldn’t be the same organization?” Once you’ve developed your values, it’s time to have a dialogue about which behaviors align with the values and which don’t.  The best company cultures are clear on the behaviors that support the values and which do not.

Take time to develop and ask questions that address your company values in the interview process. Don’t telegraph the answers that you are looking for (Tell me about your views on integrity.). Ask questions that get at past situations and behaviors that will tell you whether or not the candidate possess those values (Can you think of a time in the past where you felt it was necessary to bend the rules at work?)

Leaders play a large role in strengthening or weakening the company’s culture. The best leaders model the values themselves, have no tolerance for value violations, reward and recognize all those who display the values, communicate the values often and hire only those whose values are a culture fit.

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