I'd argue that culture fit is the most important aspect of retaining great employees above anything else. But employee retention starts with first being able to clearly articulate what the organizational culture is. What are the aligned values, beliefs, behaviors and experiences that make up the organization's environment?
Defining company culture and values can be done in several ways. But it must be done. Whether senior leaders are working with consultants or working together as a committee, company culture and values should be memorialized on paper. But this process can't be done just to check the box. Those involved must truly be aligned on what the best culture is that fits the ultimate vision of the organization. I repeat, the culture should align with achieving the vision and goals of the company. If the existing culture needs some changes, then so be it.
Organizational culture comes about in one of two ways. It's either decisively defined, nurtured and protected from the inception of the organization; or--more typically--it comes about haphazardly as a collective sum of the beliefs, experiences and behaviors of those on the team. Either way, you will have a culture. For better or worse.
Once the company culture has been defined, ideally every action, strategy, decision and communication should support the cultural beliefs. Including all HR mechanisms from recruitment and hiring processes to performance review systems.
So why is culture fit so important for recruiting and retaining great talent? Hiring employees that don't mesh well with the existing or desired company culture leads to poor work quality, decreased job satisfaction and a potentially toxic environment. This results in turnover which has high costs--both hard and soft.
On the other hand, hiring employees that fit well with the culture and share a strong belief in the values will most likely flourish. A great study on the subject revealed that employees who fit well with their organization, coworkers, and supervisor had greater job satisfaction, were more likely to remain with their organization, and showed superior job performance.
Sounds great right?
So why do we often get it wrong? Usually because we can quickly become attracted to great talent with the subject matter expertise and resume that fits perfectly with the job function we are trying to fill. After reviewing a resume, a successful phone screen and the first in-person interview, you say to yourself, "Oh my gosh, this woman is amazing. She is exactly what this department needs! Let's fast track this process so a competitor doesn't scoop her up!"
We have a saying the Navy SEAL teams which goes, "Slow is smooth and smooth is fast." Equally as impactful is our saying, "Don't run to your death."
In the world of recruiting and human resources, it goes something like, "Hire slow, fire fast."
Just because you are afraid that a competitor is going to beat you to the punch, don't make rash hiring decisions with extensive analysis on whether that person is an ideal culture fit. Don't worry, there are actually plenty of fish in the sea. But getting this part wrong is very damaging to a company, and that person won't stick around long anyway. Then it's back to the drawing board. All the while, other team members are wondering why the hiring managers, senior leaders and the HR department are doing such a poor job selecting the best candidates. Then trust starts to diminish and that's another issue all together.
I know of course because I have made this mistake in my own companies. In a previous company, before we refined our recruiting and hiring process, we made some terrible hires in many key position. We found some real lunatics! They had great resumes, interviewed very well and talked the talk. But they didn't share the same values or vision for the company and were definitely not a culture fit. Culture applies to employees at every level, but when you miss the mark on bringing in the right person in more senior positions--watch out.
Employee retention involves pretty much all aspects of how the business is structured and led. But it starts with who you allow in--who earns the opportunity to join your unique culture. As former Navy SEAL, I can assure you that we have the most rigorous training and selection process in the world. One of the reasons is not just that we need the best war-fighters we can find; but that every member of the team has to fit our culture and share our beliefs. They must believe in the mission and have an intimate understanding and connection to our cause.
That's not to say that all SEALs are cut from the same mold. We have an extremely high level of diversity. Which brings me to an important point. Culture fit doesn't mean that an organization is recruiting the same kind of people with the same backgrounds and experiences. Or at least they shouldn't be.
If you can combine finding the right people who share the cultural beliefs with effective and ongoing training and professional development you will see winning results. I realize that you don't always have the luxury of waiting around forever to find that ideal candidate who has the skills you need yesterday, but there are some simple ways to assess culture fit that won't slow you down.
It all starts with asking the right questions. Questions not just related to the candidates technical experience.
- Why do you believe you are the best candidate to work here, outside of your technical expertise?
- From what you have seen, how would you describe this company's culture?
- How would you describe the culture of your previous workplace? How well do you believe you fit in?
- What's most important to you about an ideal workplace environment?
Of course there can be fun ways to assess an individual's personality to see if they fit with the team environment. Take them on a tour of the office. Let then sit in on a meeting or have them join you for a team lunch. Assess their comfort levels in different environments. If collaboration is a critical part of the company culture, ask them questions about how they like to work. Ask for specific examples and experiences.
I recommend also having a diverse cross-functional selection committee that is involved in the screening process. This committee's primary role is assessing culture fit. We implemented this in my previous company to avoid hiring mistakes and it works wonderfully still to this day. It also accomplishes several things: it makes the hiring and selection process more robust; gives the team a sense of ownership over protecting the culture; and gives the candidate a heightened degree of accomplishment. They will hit the ground running knowing that their peers chose them to join the organization.
Hiring based on culture and values increases retention immensely. But it's not just about what's right for the company, it's also about what's best for the candidate. If you bring them in for their expertise, knowing that they possibly aren't the best culture fit, that isn't fair to them either. They will thrive more in an environment that suits their beliefs and values. So let them spread their wings somewhere else and find the individual that will be with you for the long haul.