How to Use Hiring as a Powerful Tool to Transform Culture

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As September approaches; the distractions of warm, sunny days and summer vacations wear off, the kids heading back to school and adults reassess their work situations.  As a result, fall tends to be one of the peak times during the year for employee turnover.

As busy business owners, executives, and supervisors responsible for hiring, every minute of your day are spoken for.  So filling open positions quickly with capable, independent employees is crucial.

Invest a few minutes today to rethink your hiring approach to focus on developing culture will make your life easier tomorrow because your dream team will be in place!

Hiring for Cultural Fit

Hiring people that fit the company culture is a common practice.  There are several reasons that this approach to hiring appears to make sense.

We are naturally drawn to people like ourselves.  Therefore, they are easy to identify, are comfortable to be around, and make communication easier.

Another reason companies and organizations hire this way is that culture is strong and has the potential to chew up and spit out a person that’s not a fit!

We all know turnover is expensive and the competition for talent is high. The thinking is that it’s easier to retain someone who matches the current culture.

These reasons seem to make sense until you look at the problems with hiring for cultural fit.

The Downsides

Whether you hired into an existing culture or were part of creating it, you likely recognize it has strengths and drawbacks.  If you hire for the cultural match, you will get more of what you’ve always had: both the good and the bad.

As a person with the authority to make hiring decisions, you’re in the unique position to mold the culture into one that positively impacts people within the organization and the customers by hiring different people.

Another drawback is that by hiring for culture fit, you end up sacrificing the creativity that is fostered through diversity.  Most organizations are under pressure from competition to continuously improve. It can be challenging to get better when people are too in-sync and prone to group-think.

So, what’s a more effective way to integrate culture and hiring that fosters the good parts of the culture while eliminating the bad and fostering innovation?

Hiring for Cultural Contribution

In his book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant recommends hiring “not on culture fit but on cultural contribution.”  He suggests looking for people who enrich the culture rather than match it.  In my experience, this is a sound strategy.

Organization and even department cultures are difficult and slow to change.  However, you don’t need everyone to be fully aligned to do it, all you need is a critical mass.  You only need a strong group of key people to push the snowball of change over the edge.

If every hiring decision from this point forward is rooted in a clear vision of the desired culture, you’ll add exponentially to any other efforts to develop culture.

How to Do It

To hire people that move your culture forward you need a picture of what your current culture looks like.  Once you’ve determined that, you can then identify the gaps between where you are now and that desired state.

For example, a small manufacturing company determines that it wants to retain several features of its culture including 1) a strong focus on collaboration, 2) fairness and equity, and 3) adaptability.  At the same time, it also wants to expand into a culture of 1) high customer focus and 2) empowerment.

You can then use this gap to create a list of high priority skills, attributes, personal characteristics, and backgrounds that will support moving the culture toward the desired state.

Back to our example, our manufacturing firm chooses to look for candidates with a background in customer focused industries such as retail and screen candidates for competence in and traits of effective customer service.  They also seek out individuals who have worked in a culture of empowerment and therefore are comfortable taking on more responsibility for decision making.

Your culture will change as you begin to hire for the culture you desire, so review and update your culture analysis regularly.

You’ll soon find that rather than dreading this seasonal phenomenon of fall turnover, you’ll be like other top hiring managers and capitalize on it as a time to support your efforts to shift the culture.

Turn Insight into Action

The easiest way to integrate what you learn into the real world is to give it a try right now while it’s fresh in your mind.  Try this:

Name one thing that’s missing in your current culture that you feel would help your team be more successful and what you might look for in potential hires that would ensure they are bringing this into your organization. 


You can leave your answer in a comment below.

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People Matters provides support to business owners and leaders in all areas of human resources management including the topic in this article: hiring people.

HR is what we at People Matters love to do! We help our clients create great workplaces that engage employees and produce better business results.

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