There are a lot of misconceptions about what constitutes a company’s culture. Many people think that culture means we all have the same interests: yoga, Smart Water and our collective dream retirement homes are tiny houses.
Unfortunately, this isn’t what culture is about at all.
If you’ve ever been part of a work environment that feels like every employee is cloned, you know it’s a recipe for stifling groupthink. And definitely doesn’t promote rapid change and growth.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with similar interests and group activities. These can be indicators of a vibrant culture at work. The difference lies in understanding that those kinds of things are RESULTS, not causes. Similar interests are natural, organic outgrowths of a vibrant, healthy environment where a company has correctly identified and embraced who they are as an organization.
Identifying your company’s core culture
Work culture is actually a set of BEHAVIORS and ATTITUDES that everyone values, demonstrates and takes pride in reinforcing within the group.
How every person in your organization works together to produce results is a critical indicator. If you sit back and observe these actions and attitudes, you’ll find a consistent set of values within a workplace — a value that forms culture.
For example, startups require people who aggressively pursue results. When I assign a task to someone, sometimes I leave out crucial details. Not intentionally, but as a symptom of a dynamic, rapidly growing business.
In this situation, I don’t want an employee who sits back and passively waits until the deadline has passed. And then says something like, “Oh, I didn’t have everything I needed to get you the final product.” That kind of attitude would be a terrible cultural fit for our company.
I NEED to have someone who proactively looks for answers without being guided or managed at every step.
A good cultural fit is the single most important selection factor when you hire someone. I love this quote: “People get hired for skill and fired for behavior.” Company culture forms the core identity of a business, and culture is nothing more than a set of collectively valued and reinforced behaviors.
So it makes sense that Behavioral Interviewing is the best way to find the perfect fit.
What is Behavioral Interviewing?
The first step in Behavioral Interviewing is identifying the ideal behaviors that fit within your company’s culture. Work with members of your team and ask them to list the actions and attitudes they want to see every person adopt, regardless of position.
This collective set of attitudes and actions should be the same from CEO to janitor. Once you’ve identified these, come up with a series of questions to evaluate whether an applicant naturally exhibits what you’re looking for
To create your series of culture-identifying questions, structure the questions using the STAR technique. Start off with a Situation or Task the prospective employee has found themselves in, ask about the Action they took, and then identify the Result.
You should typically begin with the sentence: “Tell me about a time when…” Leave the question open-ended. You don’t want to create a situation where the candidate can give you a yes or no, and be done. That doesn’t tell you anything.
Similarly, don’t ask questions where they can give a canned answer. For example, “If you saw someone stealing at work, would you report it?” Again, this just wastes time and doesn’t tell you anything.
A better question looks like this: “Tell me about a time when you had to create a project plan from scratch. You didn’t get all the information you needed from your supervisor, and you had to involve other people in other areas to do parts of the project. What did you do? How did you go about it? Who did you work with, and how did it turn out?”
How to conduct the interview
As you can tell, to get the candidate to give you insight into his or her natural values and behaviors, you have to get pretty detailed in your questions. Breaking a question up into several parts is perfectly acceptable. This creates a more natural, conversational flow that puts everyone at ease.
Ask the first question: “Tell me about a time when you had to create a project plan from scratch, but didn’t get all of the information you needed from your supervisor.” Then let the candidate respond.
After her first answer, dig deeper with follow-up questions like, “Obviously the project was too big for one person to handle. Did you involve other people? How did you go about doing that?” Her response will open the door to ask about interactions with others, details on specific conversations, potential confrontations, and feedback.
Creating a comfortable environment that feels more like a conversation than an interview allows you to solicit more natural, and therefore honest, answers from someone. In natural conversation, candidates don’t feel trapped or tricked. Or like they should try to provide textbook answers.
They’re simply telling you about their work history and how they handled things in the past.
What you’re looking for
I firmly believe anyone can change. At the same time, I recognize the best indicator of future performance is past performance. With that in mind, look for someone who has a strong track record of exhibiting the behaviors you’re looking for.
If you structure your initial prompts correctly and continue to ask follow-up questions, you’ve got a great chance of determining whether a particular person will be a good cultural fit. So don’t be afraid to keep digging until you find the answers you’re looking for.
Sometimes you’ll ask a situational question that the candidate hasn’t encountered before. Say you’re trying to find out if they’ll ask their supervisor for more details if they’re missing something.
You might hear: “I’ve actually only ever had super extroverted bosses who were micromanagers. I’ve never had to ask for more information.” Don’t just give up on this line of questioning. Redirect the question to ask about senior coworkers or respected peers.
Always value an excellent cultural fit over anything else. Skills can be taught, experience can be gained. But hiring someone you can’t work with is a recipe for frustration, failure and division within your company.
Finding the perfect candidate is like adopting a new member into your family. Not only is it a great feeling, but you’ll be amazed at what the right fit will do for your business.