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Hiring to fit culture

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The first time I heard the term ‘hire for attitude, train for skill’ was in my start up days as a culture consultant. That was 16 years ago, and the term has stuck with me ever since as a simple mantra for recruitment success. Regular contributor, Nick Freedman explains the concept further.

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Of course, as an HR practitioner, this is not new news for you. You’ll be familiar with the idea that hiring someone who doesn’t fit your culture costs 1.5-2 x their annual salary. And there’s a good chance you’ve endured the painful process of offboarding someone that you’ve just spent a few weeks trying to onboard. The truth here is simple. Without the right mindset, it doesn’t matter how skilled an employee is, the cracks will quickly show up in your culture. Cultural fit, it seems, is getting more air time these days.

So rather than use up the next 1000 words banging the drum about the benefits of this philosophy, I want to offer up some thought starters of how you can put this simple wisdom into practice the next time you’re hiring. I interviewed one of my clients, Toby Roderick, to explore how his business customediauses their values to hire people who fit their culture.

NF: What are your values?

TR: At customedia, we place importance on 6 values. Excellence, Timeless Advice, Integrity, Authenticity, Collaboration and Enterprising. The mottos help remind us how to apply these values in our day to day work.

NF: Have you ever hired someone who didn’t fit your culture?

TR: Yes, as we’ve grown, we hired some who didn’t fit well in our culture. It was hard work because we’re a small business that runs like a family and so we need to get along. Our business is fast moving and with change being constant, if people can’t keep up, or have a worldview which is very different from ours, it’s a challenge for us.

NF: How many new people have you hired this year?

TR: Three, with a fourth potentially about to join us soon.

NF: So how do you use your values to seek a cultural fit?

TR: We spent an afternoon drafting out a series of questions that would probe into what a potential employee values. We ask these same questions in every interview, as it gives us consistency in our recruitment process. After asking the questions, we listen and watch closely to their response. It’s very telling whether someone is going to fit into our culture, or not, by their responses.

For the value of Excellence, we ask ‘tell me about a failure you’ve had?’ We are comfortable giving people room to make mistakes as that’s the only way you learn and so asking people to be open about a time they’ve reached for the stars and failed tells us a lot about the person.

We probe the Enterprising value by asking ‘what is something you’ve always wanted to learn to do?’ The responses we hear from this one are great. What this question tells us is whether the individual is self motivated and can drive themselves, or whether they’re a cruiser who’s happy to tag along for the ride. We want to hire the former.

We place importance on Authenticity and ask people ‘tell me a time when you have had a positive  impact on someone.’ We’ve had some amazing responses and this one, at times can be something of a tear jerker, as people will often open up about how they’ve genuinely been there for their friends and loved ones. This is probably my favourite question.

To uncover how well the person values Collaboration, we ask ‘give an example of when you’ve played an important role in a team.’ This is more commonplace, but important nonetheless.

NF: And do the questions work? As in, are your three new employees aligned with your culture?

TR: Yes, we’re very happy with them. Mind you we did have to interview about 20 people in total to find the three that do fit, but that’s where the questions helped us. We no longer rely on gut feel and intuition. We’ve got a process that works really well.

NF: How else have your values helped you build more alignment in your culture?

TR: Well, its been a little over 12 months since we defined our values and because we involved the whole team in the process it’s created a great bond between us all. Of course, there is no perfect culture, so we still have our challenging days, but for the most part, we all get along well and understand what’s important for us.

NF: Thanks Toby

TR: No worries.

So it goes without saying that if you want to hire for cultural fit, you first need to know what your culture is. If your strategic HR plan includes a goal to sort out your culture, this article will help you prepare for the journey.  link to my first article. But for now, let’s assume you have a clearly articulated culture, that is a true representation of how things are being done in your organisation.

Sir Francis Bacon once said  ‘the wise question, is one half the answer’ and it’s this wisdom we need to adopt when probing for culture fit. We use questions all day long, but it’s a rare soul who stops and asks ‘are my questions effective enough to provide the answers I desire?’ And so as seekers of great talent who are naturally aligned with your culture, it’s vital to get your PFQs right.

A PFQ is a ‘Pointy Fit Question’ and it’s designed to test out whether your potential new employee will fit right in, or stand out like a sore thumb in your culture. Great PFQs have three qualities:

Pointy – well targeted and specific enough to give you a robust reply. The response must point to something that you need to know about the candidate.

Fit – aligned with your values. One per value. Not all your values will warrant a question, and some questions might explore more than 1 value.

Question – provides you with a polarised response to your ultimate question ‘is this person aligned with our values, or not?’

In addition to getting your PFQs right, I am also an advocate of asking your candidates to define their values and bring these with them to the interview. Having an honest conversation about ‘who are you on the inside’ as well as ‘what skills/experience have you gained’ will add more weight to your analytical process of hiring for attitude and training for skill. If you don’t already have a values profile in your HR toolkit you can use this one here.

Free tool download – https://nickfreedman.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/VALUES-MAP.pdf

Movie which explains how it works – https://nickfreedman.com.au/free-values-profile-personal-development/

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