RTT – Recruiting for Cultural Fit over Experience

odd-one-out-2These are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest Resourcing Think Tank (RTT) held on Thursday 6th November 2014 hosted by Willis’, Clare Lewis (Recruitment Business Partner – Global Corporate) titled ‘Recruiting for Cultural Fit over Experience’.

The following summary has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior Resourcing and HR professionals from leading national and international businesses. Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.

To start, it is important to define what culture means and why it is something that businesses, HR and resourcing functions are starting to really focus on. Many would agree that there is a slight intangibility in defining what culture is however, a simple way to look at it is in terms of behaviours – the ‘how we do things around here’. Then delve deeper into how this would be described by internal and external stakeholders. The drive in having a set and clear culture needs to come with buy in and support from the top of the organisation. This can be achieved by communicating the cultural vision, a strong business case with business drivers and awareness of competitors’ cultures.

What are the business drivers to having a clear culture?

  • Engagement of current employees
  • Higher performance coupled with better ability to work together with other employees
  • Lower attrition levels
  • Attraction of the ‘best / right talent’ for the business
  • Competitive advantage in differing market conditions
  • Clear employer / customer brand

Best Practice

  • Attraction

Internal messaging, including things such as office interiors and layout, company values, recruitment processes, employees’ behaviours and senior management leadership style all help build an organisation’s culture. If these do not compliment each other it is much harder to have a clear culture. If a change in culture is desired then all of these aspects need to be considered and training may be necessary for current employees to mirror the sought after culture.

Once a clear culture is developed the external communication of this to both customers and potential employees is extremely important. HR and marketing should work closely with each other to ensure both customer and employer brand are aligned – after all customers could also be potential employees. They should also work alongside each other on how to communicate a realistic expectation of the culture and where to do so. If this culture is aspirational it can lead to talent attraction. It can also mean that the wrong candidates may self-exclude themselves out of the recruitment process which can save time and money on assessing and hiring people who are the wrong fit for the organisation. If employees are aligned and happy with the culture of an organisation they are also good for talent attraction as will promote the brand in the right way and refer talent to the business – one of the most successful types of discovering talent.

If companies work with recruitment agencies they can sometimes lose their brand identity and messaging in the hiring process. It is key to form a partnership with agencies and clearly communicate what messaging is needed to form realistic expectations for candidates. This can often be done better by giving agencies exclusivity on roles so they treat the business as more of a partner.

Some businesses may have an innovative culture but be seen to potential employees as ‘boring’. In order to combat this communication needs to focus on the things that the business does that will attract talent rather than general informative communication. Investment into innovative projects can help create the brand perception of a more pioneering culture.

  • Assessment

Assessment methods need to align with and support the key messaging of the brand and culture. When finding candidates who suit the company’s culture a suggested method is online testing. Companies such as Chemistry design tests like this which look at values, motivations, behaviours and experience. The first two of these are harder to change and therefore ensuring people have the desired traits for these is more essential than the latter attributes. Experience actually has the least impact on success in a role and company. These attributes then need to be underpinned by intellect testing. One of the best ways to decide on the desired values, motivations etc that would be a good cultural fit is to assess current, successful employees on these. These tests can also improve consistency in hires and remove unconscious bias in early stages. One thing to bear in mind is that these tests should be kept relatively short to be most effective.

Hiring managers may need to be trained in order to make sure they are sending out the right messaging in the recruitment process. Some managers may have interviewed for many years and be very sceptical about the need for training. Therefore, the best way to get them on board with this is to communicate the reason for the training and new journey. They need to feel inspired and comfortable with what is expected of them but also know that they will be measured on numbers of candidates hired who have the desired behaviours to encourage them to implement this style of assessment.

If a company decides to hire for cultural fit it needs to make sure this plan has longevity and can be slightly adapted in different marketing conditions, whilst following similar processes, in years to come. This is the only way to develop a long term culture for an organisation that is led by the style of employees. Tools used in assessing external candidates should also be used internally for progression of employees and performance reviews to ensure promoted employees also have these values and align with the organisation’s culture.

Graduate recruitment teams often have a good idea of recruiting for culture but communicate this with other recruitment teams. Suggestions even go as far as DNA testing for new recruits but is this too black and white? At what stage does this type of hiring lead to missing the potential of what new and diverse employees could bring to the business?

  • On-boarding

Inductions and training need to demonstrate clear and consistent branding and cultural messaging in order to meet and further build expectations of new employees. Resourcing and L&D need to communicate and have a clear joined up process for on-boarding and training to give a consistent message on culture. For successful on-boarding a suggestion is to give employees different methods of communication to pick which one would engage them most e.g. online, hard copy written text, smartphone etc. Tools such as Elephants Don’t Forget can be used for assessing how much of the on-boarding information an employee has taken in and reinforce this information.

Challenges and considerations

  • Market Conditions

For many companies a large shift in culture is needed in order to keep up with current economic conditions. In 2008 the recession lead to many businesses being solely focused on sales and making profit which led to having a culture that encouraged this. However, business is now becoming more and more about the customer due to platforms such as social media which give the customer a louder voice. Companies are needing a cultural shift in order to be more customer centric, giving great experience, rather than solely focusing on selling. This makes it extremely hard for a company to have one set culture that suits everyone. There is often a mismatch of current and new employees and therefore an issue when trying to develop one clear culture. Businesses need to be realistic and understand that one culture may not fit all. It is likely employees will be of different generations even if they have the same values and behaviours. It also needs to be taken into consideration that if there is already a set culture in a company it can be extremely hard to change this. There is no quick solution and it would involve rigorous training of current employees and very precise resourcing methods for potential employees. For this reason acquisition of companies can also be incredibly hard when trying to form one set culture. If the culture of one company is implemented in both it may lead to a loss of current employees and the previous business’ USPs and positive attributes.

Being a public limited company can greatly influence the need for a certain type of culture as this can impact the decisions and opinions of external stakeholders. However, the need to drive share price can often be an issue when looking at the long term goals of a company and can lead to decisions to try to change culture rapidly which is not often possible.

For global companies having one defined culture can also be an issue. A culture that is seen as desirable and attracts the best talent in one country may be seen entirely differently in another and actually put off potential candidates.

  • Senior Management Style

When hiring senior managers skillset can often be the focus but these employees need to have the motivations, behaviours and values that suit the culture of the company as they may be one of the biggest influences on this. However, assessment processes do need to be slightly adapted as if lower level employees are hired on the same motivations as senior level they may get frustrated at the level and influence of their role.

  • Setting Correct Expectations

Another challenge is ensuring that the employer brand and communications match up to the actual culture. If candidates are expecting one thing and find the business to be something totally different it can lead to high levels of attrition. The vision for culture needs to be known by senior managers, hiring managers and communication teams. However, the degree of intangibility can mean that culture can be hard to articulate.

  • Differing Business Areas

One of the biggest challenges for large organisations is having one common culture and hiring strategy as different areas of a business may well want to attract different types of people. Something that may work is creating an employer / customer brand for each aspect of the business and developing a different culture and hiring procedure for this. One overall framework can be developed involving values, capabilities etc. and then differing grades can be chosen based on the level of role. This overall framework can be adapted by senior managers so that certain areas reflect the type of candidates needed in their departments but some attributes are always tested on.

  • Lack of Innovation

Only hiring people who fit into the planned / current culture of a company may lead to a lack of diversity and inclusion, as well as innovation from differing mindsets, styles and opinions.

Measuring success

For any business initiative there needs to be clear value-add in order to get backing and be seen as a worthwhile project to spend time and money on. Defining exactly what is gained from having a clear and attractive culture can often be hard to measure but below are some of the ways in which to do so.

  • Standard recruitment metrics such as longevity of hire,  retention and performance
  • Quality of hire – progression lists.  If someone is culturally wrong they won’t grow within the business if internal recruitment involves looking at values and motivators
  • Net promoter score from employees and customers – can compare this to see how the company is improving year on year
  • Engagement surveys / cultural pulse surveys
  • Hiring manager surveys on the perception of the culture within their team
  • Feedback from new hires – recruiters could meet with new hires six weeks in to see how they are getting on and see if the company is aligned to expectations from the employer brand and recruitment process
  • Tracking the number of employees who have high scores in the set behavioural traits that are desired
  • Connexor can be used to look at the impact of improving employee engagement on the bottom line



Oasis HR

Written by , Network Driven HR Recruitment

Oasis HR is a multi-award winning HR Recruitment Agency based in London that delivers Contingency and Search services within the Human Resource and Business Change Markets. Our client base encompasses all industry sectors and we have a proven track record of delivering permanent, interim and temporary professionals at all levels across all HR disciplines. From a £20k HR Administrator to a £200k HR Director, Oasis HR is well placed to identify, approach and secure the best available talent in the market

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