Leverage Corporate Culture to Win the War for Talent

By Marty Parker, a YPO member since 2011

Corporate culture is defined by behavior. It’s how people — the collective employees in an organization — do things. Ideology, vision, mission and values — these things set the tone. But culture is really about how people behave day-in and day-out. And it’s a powerful weapon in today’s war for talent.

Our firm runs the Canadian Corporate Cultures Study™ and when we asked some of Canada’s leading organizations what has had the biggest impact on their performance, 92 percent said their culture does. The how they did things was exceptionally important to their success. When we started this study 13 years ago, culture’s impact was 67 percent. While I don’t think the numbers have changed much, I do believe the awareness of the impact that culture has on performance and talent management has gone through a real transformation globally.

However you get there, defining culture isn’t easy, but it’s the first step to getting powerful results from your recruitment plans and, as I call it, recruiting for fit.

Connecting to your corporate culture

Once you’ve found the four to eight behaviors that represent your corporate culture, look at candidates who meet more than the skill set. Ask yourself if they have the behaviors that fit in and support the culture you’ve worked hard to define and build. As you embark on that process, here are a few things to consider:

  • Get beyond the interview. Once you’ve done a chronological interview (which I see as critical to finding trends in their behavior) you have to switch it up. Understanding the person — not just the professional — is everything when recruiting for fit. Watch their demeanor as they come and go to interviews and interact with your staff. Move them into additional discussions, such as 100-day plans, business cases or SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) Book social meetings like dinners with the candidate and their spouse. One client of ours even likes to meet his potential candidates on the ski hill on a Saturday afternoon. All of these different tactics let you see what patterns of behavior they exhibit under different types of pressures and whether they are a match for your culture.
  • Seek the opinions of others. We all look at the world through our own filters and the hiring process is no different. Including others in the decision-making process is crucial to forming a holistic opinion about your next hire. While there’s no magic number for outside opinions, a good place to aim is more than three, less than seven. The key is to incorporate the opinions of others — more importantly, others with different styles of thinking or leadership in your organization. They might see something that you missed (or didn’t even realize you saw until they point it out). There are a number of things that can take you down the wrong path when recruiting for fit, but none greater than excluding others in the process.
  • Use directed referencing. Don’t simply rely on the names of individuals a candidate gives you — we all know they are going to say great things! I recommend asking for specific kinds of references by giving them titles of the types of people that you want to speak with, or broadening your outreach to peers, direct reports, mentors etc. You’re not looking for negative information, but you’re trying to build a fuller picture of the candidate. You want to clearly imagine how their behavior in the past will drive success within your organization in the future.
  • Integrating a new candidate into your organization and its culture is extremely important. Unfortunately, it’s also the stage where the ball is most commonly dropped. Look for the behaviors that you saw in the recruitment phase and encourage them, if you’re not seeing them already. The HR team and the search partner should be doing this, not the direct report. Facilitation from a third party — like a search partner — can also be an asset when assessing the early integration of your newest star hire.

Winning in the war for talent depends on a well-defined corporate culture that’s aligned and working in harmony with your human capital practices. Through a carefully designed process, you can start to see if the behaviors exhibited by your candidates fit the ones you have identified as being core to your organization’s success.

Marty Parker is CEO of Waterstone Human Capital and considered one of Canada’s leading experts on human capital. He is a frequent commentator on issues surrounding corporate leadership and organizational culture, and the author of “Culture Connection: How developing a winning culture will give your organization a competitive advantage.” Parker resides in Toronto and has been a member of YPO since 2011.

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