When Assessing Culture Fit, it Pays to Get Personal

kyleWe’ve made a lot of progress in assessment technology in the last decade. Employers are increasing efforts to identify qualified candidates and evaluate aptitude in desired skills than ever before … and many have learned the hard way that candidate skill does not equal employee success.

Ed Hurst, Managing Director Australia for Kenexa, sums it up nicely: “How often have you hired someone who clearly has what it takes to be successful in a job – all the right qualifications, an impressive track record, an energetic personality and the talent to deliver outcomes you need – only to see them under-perform, fail to ‘click’ or disappointingly drift out of the organization?”

A much better indicator of success (and tenure) is how well your company culture and values match a candidate’s own. But measuring something less tangible than skill or aptitude is no walk in the park – especially for companies that don’t have a strong understanding of their cultures.

Following my rant last week on the hoops we’re making candidates jump through, I thought it would be helpful to take a look at some of the more effective methods of assessing candidate fit.

First: Identify KCIs – Key Culture Indicators

Just as you would expect a hiring manager to identify the skills needed to perform required job duties, you should also take the time to identify the key components of your company culture. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Employee surveys. No one knows your culture better than your employees. After all, they’re the ones driving it. Collate and compare responses and identify the most consistent KCIs.
  • Focus groups. Invite top performers to participate in focus groups dedicated to clearly defining what attributes are most important for success within the organization. This could be in conjunction with employee surveys, as the data collected would offer a solid foundation for discussion.
  • Third-party solutions. A number of solution providers offer products designed specifically to assist companies identify KCIs and assess candidate fit against that. Kenexa does this, as do PeopleAnswers, RoundPegg, and Cubiks. TalentBin dabbles in this in the sourcing stage.

With a clear picture of the behaviors, ethics and values that feed your company culture, you can evaluate how well a candidate stacks up. The only question is how. 

Look Beyond Testing to Assess Culture Fit

Efforts to measure culture fit shouldn’t be limited to the testing center. There are other, more personal methods that should also be considered – either to supplement testing data, or as standalone tests.

  • Get Social. Fact: You can’t accurately assess culture fit in a vacuum. And yet, that’s precisely what happens when you rely solely on testing data to make hiring decisions. For those with multiple positions open (in one department or across many), inviting candidates to a social hour is an increasingly popular way employers are getting an initial feel for culture fit. This hybrid approach blends formal open houses with casual group interviews, and is an effective screening exercise.
  • Step Out of the Office. Not only is the standard interview process a poor representation of daily life at the company, it’s rarely conducive to the open dialogue required to gauge personality and behavior. There are better ways to engage candidates in meaningful conversation. Take them to the local coffee shop or your favorite lunch spot – and be sure to invite the hiring manager. Just remember that this isn’t a social call; watch how he or she interacts with service staff, how often they’re on their phone, etc.
  • Involve Would-Be Co-Workers. No one knows what it takes to succeed in your company better than your employees. By involving members of various teams in the interview process, recruiters and hiring managers can get a better impression of how well a candidate gels with your people. At the same time, it gives candidates a chance to meet would-be co-workers and get a feel for where he or she would fit into the organization.

Culture Fit: The Double-Edged Sword

Studies show that employers that bolster efforts to assess culture fit are improving quality of hire, improving retention rates, and reducing time-to-productivity metrics. In short, they’re making better hires. Employers are also learning that the best candidates are assessing culture fit just as closely when weighing career opportunities.

Looking ahead, assessing culture fit will continue to play a pivotal role in good talent acquisition process. Those employers with a strong understanding of what it takes to succeed will be more apt to hire candidates who fit the bill. And those employers that struggle to articulate their company culture and identify the KCIs required for longtime success will continue to struggle with bad hires and high turnover.

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