November 16, 2018
Leverage Culture for Better Hires
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The sad truth is that people are typically hired for what they know, but they are usually released for who they are. The cost of hiring the wrong people is staggering: according to Forbes, at least 30% of the employee’s first-year salary. It’s also well understood that a company with good culture will outperform those lacking good culture. The famous quote attributed to Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, is one of my favorites.
At BDNA, we combined behavioral interview techniques with our corporate culture. The success rate was not perfect, and we never expected it to be. However, we did find that this approach led to fewer bad hires, particularly in the leadership ranks, where failures are even more costly.
Here are four key elements to better hires:
To be effective, you must understand your culture. This is no easy task, and I’ll not propose a method to uncover it here. However, be sure you do the hard work to uncover your real culture, not what you want it to be or the slogans you put on a wall. Remember your culture is not what YOU say it is, it is what OTHER people say it is, including your customers. Dig in courageously; embrace the good and work hard on the bad.
We have all worked for organizations that have put thrown together value statements about which the employees privately scoffed. Fixing “bad” elements of your culture is a very time-consuming process. At BDNA, we had a value around customer success, but our real culture around it was very reactive; we sprang into action when things went wrong. While it was painstaking to re-build that culture to be proactive, it was worth the effort.
A common question I was asked by candidates was, “What makes someone successful at BDNA?”. Since we understood our culture well, it was easy to answer: people who exhibit the traits of our culture succeed; others did not. Our culture had 6 elements, three around “living” the BDNA way, and three around “working” the BDNA way:
Be certain you can easily and immediately describe your culture in simple, understandable terms. If you struggle to remember the values or can't describe them concisely, they may not be the right ones...or the real ones. Also, if you’re trying to change your culture, you’ll need to believe in where you're headed and hire towards it.
With your culture in hand, its time to develop the questions. Behavioral interviewing is well documented by others. The method I use is from Manager Tools that they first discussed 10 years ago, and it’s simple and timeless. It requires the “lead” (describing the job requirement), the “question”, and the “behavior” for which you are looking. For example, “We often have to work with difficult people. Describe a time you had to work with someone others would have described as difficult.”
Behavioral questions force long answers, and long answers allow you to discern if a person will fit your culture. If you’re an active listener, the opportunities and areas to probe further present themselves clearly. I always found myself asking at least one clarifying question or asking for further explanation, digging deeper on how they reacted to a situation and if that matched our culture. Don't be distracted by the “what” of the answers and lose sight of what you’re trying to find out, which is more about the “who” and “how”.
I tried to interview every employee that came to BDNA. As the organization grew, my interview became more of a sales pitch, as I trusted my team to have screen candidates against our culture. However, when I was doing the interviewing, particularly for leadership roles, I crafted my questions towards the culture. Here are some examples:
There’s no silver bullet for hiring the right people.
However, I do believe you can hire the right people for your organization by understanding who you are and then seeking out those that embrace the same values. Pairing questions that capture "who they are" with "what they know" will go a long ways to improving your hiring as well as retention. And, if nothing else, you’ll have a few laughs and collect some good stories along the way.
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