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Posted: May 03, 2012

The culture imperative

A good fit is critical to recruitment and retention

Steve Ziegler

Culture has become THE buzz word in today’s workplace – from small businesses to large corporate environments.  During the hiring process, culture is often a big topic of discussion, and very well should be, in an effort to make certain that new employees will fit well within an organization. Companies that have developed strong, unique cultures are using them as key differentiators when hiring people and are winning the war on talent.

In a word, culture is critical to the workplace.  It defines winning companies, is the cornerstone of retention and recruitment and plays a leading role in defining a company’s brand. 

A company’s corporate culture is truly one of those things that’s hard to describe or breakdown and exists as really much more of a “feel.”  It’s a very powerful element that ultimately helps shape a workplace – providing a loose set of rules for collaboration and a focus on shared values, attitudes, behaviors.    Office culture is often initiated by the founder or top executives, but is actually defined by the make-up of its employees and carried through by the experiences they bring to the workplace and their contributions.

One of my favorite quotes, which embodies this exact sentiment, comes from Simon Sinek, author of the book Start with Why, and someone who has influenced the way we approach culture in our own office.  “If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears."

As more and more companies continue adding jobs this year, maintaining and/or shifting corporate culture will be a high priority and will absolutely define the industry leaders as they compete for the elite.  Candidates who seem the most compatible with a company’s culture are likely to be the best fit and will make strides to ensure the ongoing success of the company.  

“In a key role, such as a sales position, it was very important to us to be able to hire someone who not only ‘fit in’ with our other employees, but a person who would be able to articulate our culture and vision to potential clients,” says Sandra Osborn, VP of Sales, Discovery Outsourcing.

Whether you handle recruiting internally or outsource to a talent acquisition or Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) firm, a deep understanding of your corporate culture is a must to capture the best candidates and allow them the move the culture forward.   It is also the responsibility of all those involved in the hiring process to help express the culture of the organization and select the best candidates based on this and other critical factors.  Good outside recruiting firms will take the time to immerse themselves in a company’s corporate culture in an effort to help identify those most appropriate for the position.

The interview process is the ideal time to assess a candidates cultural fit.  As companies strive to lower their cost per hire, reduce turnover and increase productivity, the screening and selection process needs to include cultural fit as an important element.  While nothing will replace the intense focus on a candidates’ qualifications and professional expertise, those who stand out an ideal cultural fit will likely get the nod -- helping the entire organization work more comfortably, effectively and efficiently.

The interview process helps both job seekers and hiring managers get a feel for how potential employees will fit based on their personality, values and past experience.  Adding potential team members and/or direct supervisors to the interview process will build consensus on the best candidate for the job – as it relates to both experience and cultural fit.  While there are certainly questions that do not belong in an interview process, asking pointed questions to engage the job seeker and create dialogue will provide a forum for assessing a candidate’s fit.   The following are a few suggestions.

• What are you most proud of during the time you spent at company X?
• What were the reasons you left your previous job?
• What did you like and dislike about the team dynamics with your previous employers?
• Describe the corporate culture at your last company and what you liked and disliked about it?
• What would you do if management made a decision you didn’t agree with?
• When you evaluate a potential company to work for, what are some of the important values that you look for?
• What will make you love coming to work here every day?

As companies engage in hiring new employees and continue to shape their brands, it is the crucial to bring cultural fit to the forefront of the recruiting process. Those who embrace the role culture plays in high performance organizations will be one step closer to recruiting and retaining top talent.

Steve is co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of Triworth, a Denver-based nationwide talent acquisition firm focused on recruitment process outsourcing (RPO), middle management and executive search.  Contact Steve at or 303.344.4101.

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Readers Respond

The culture-hiring fit is a critical topic. Thanks for shedding light on it. We have developed a free tool for assessing culture fit during hiring. If you want to share it with your clients, go to - it's listed near the top of the page. Lisa Jackson, Corporate Culture Pros. By Lisa Jackson on 2012 05 15
Thanks for reading, Greg, and great question about strategies for defining a company's culture! We hear about these situations frequently – especially when a candidate for a position we are recruiting for opens up to us about leaving their current employer because the culture was not what they expected. Clues regarding a company’s culture can begin from your initial communication. Here are a few suggestions for how to quickly assess the culture within an organization: • Ask consistent questions to everyone you meet in the interview process and compare responses. • Request to speak with more than just one or two people at the company. • Be observant! Culture is everywhere. • Ask yourself important questions throughout the process (How did they respond after my interview? What was the common denominator with all of the people I met?) • Go with your gut instinct! By Steve Ziegler on 2012 05 07
Culture defines the very nature of an organization. It is a delicate mix that can be easily spoiled. While hard to define, as Steve indicated, it must be preserved and protected. Thank you for sharing, Steve! By Trevor Martin on 2012 05 04
Steve, thank you for sharing. This is the good stuff. I shared it with our leadership team and reinforces my commitment to hiring people who's hearts and core values are aligned with our mission. By Jim Rogers on 2012 05 04
Steve - wonderful article. just posted it to Merchants' facebook page. a company's culture and personality can be articulated in so many different ways - including their physical work space. thank you for sharing! By Jynx Messacar on 2012 05 04
As a third-party, such as an outsourcing firm, or in my case, a candidate for an open position, can you recommend strategies for quickly defining a company's culture? Obviously there are questions to be asked during the interview, but sometimes I wonder if I am receiving the interviewer's version of what he/she would like the culture to be and not what it actually is. By Greg Lea on 2012 05 03
Cultural, in many ways is more important than skill set. Of course candidates need to have the ability to do the job, but you can train/teach candidates. You can not train/teach candidates how to fit into your cultural or attitude for that matter. It is imperative, however, if you want to hire based on cultural fit that your current staff can training and mentor at a high level. You will drastically increase your pool of candidates with a solid training structure. By Tim Meurer on 2012 05 03
Great article Steve, love this quote. “If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears." By Casey Godfrey on 2012 05 03
Great article Steve. You concisely articulated what all employers and HR departments should take in consideration with every new hire. thank you By Phil Workman on 2012 05 03
Steve, your article was right on point with hiring for culture. I think the last paragraph says it all: it is the crucial to bring cultural fit to the forefront of the recruiting process. Great read. By Kimberly Marzano on 2012 05 03
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