Hire for Organizational Culture Fit First, Skills Second: 5 Steps to Achieve That

August 7, 2014

Although in theory companies recognize the value in hiring people who are an organizational culture fit, in reality most hiring managers still would put “skills” in front of “fit” any day.

The problem is that roughly half of all new hires who fail within 18 months, fail for reasons of attitude, not for lack of skill.

As a leadership trainer and author of “Hiring for Attitude,” Mark Murphy lays out a 5-step method that can help any manager ensure that their next hire is one that improves organizational culture.

Step 1: Make a list of the specific cultural traits you value at the company.

Every company is different, and the values and attitudes that work at one company won’t necessarily be a good fit at another organization, says Murphy. It’s important to identify the precise motivations, attitudes and behaviors that make someone successful at your organization.

“Most companies don't take the time to actually figure out what the successful traits are,” Murphy explains. They may believe that they need to have people who possess leadership traits, when it turns out that actually the people who are top performers in the company are those who have a lot integrity and discipline.

In order to discover these traits, you have to do what Murphy calls a 333 exercise. In this exercise you take your three best and your three worst performers in the past three months, and you start to make a list. First you identify situations where your three best people showed themselves to be great, by answering the question, “What’s an example where this person was a poster child for having the right attitude for this organization, and what was their behavior or attitude that made a huge difference?”

For example, if a big problem blew up in the office, and this employee didn’t sit around complaining or pointing fingers, but instead got to work researching solutions, then you write down “self-directed problem solver.”

Then you do the same exercise with the 3 worst people in your organization in order to figure out what traits you don't want to hire for, such as negativity, or not being a strong team player.

Step 2: Craft interview questions targeted toward the behavior and attitudes you’re looking for.

Once you’ve figured out the top traits for success at your company, come up with behavioral interview questions that will help you identify candidates who possess those desirable behaviors and attitudes. The questions should challenge the candidates to put themselves in a situation that may occur at your company and the answer will tell you whether they will thrive in your culture.

For example, if you’ve determined to hire self-directed learners, you might ask a candidate, “Could you tell me about a time your boss gave you an assignment that you lacked the skills and knowledge to complete?”

Step 3. Create an interview question answer key.

This is the step that many organizations fail to take. Most hiring managers, ask interview questions, but they never really think about what the right answers are. “That’s sort of like taking the SATs without a scoring key,” Murphy explains. “What’s the point of taking the test, if there’s not an answer guide that tells you right from wrong?”

To figure the right answers take several top, middle and bottom performers from your organization to lunch individually, and then ask them the interview questions you have in mind (you may have to also come up with a good explanation why you are asking these questions, but that’s another story). The answers that the top performers give will be your correct answer key. Correspondingly, what you hear from the middle and bottom performers will show you what the weaker or “wrong” answers could be.

Step 4. Lead your interviews with the organizational culture questions, not skills questions.

Another mistake companies make is that they interview for skills first and throw in the culture fit questions in the final stages. This inevitably creates hiring problems, because a company may eliminate strong candidates, who are not a 100% skills match, but are top notch for organizational fit.

And conversely, if you don’t weed out the candidates who are a bad fit for the organization early on, at the end you may wind up with only candidates who possess a lot of skills, but not the right attitudes.

Remember it’s easier to train someone for skills, but not for attitude.

Step 5. Take five minutes to score candidates at the end of an interview.

The final step is taking some time to actually write down and score the results of the interview. “A lot of managers make the mistake of conducting an interview, and then they move on to the next candidate, without taking a minute to evaluate what it is they just heard,” Murphy shares.

If you don’t score someone immediately and you more on to interview 20 other candidates, eventually you will have no way of properly evaluating the candidates who you saw early in the process.

To avoid that, Murphy suggests setting up a seven-point scale, ranging from poor fit to great fit. Then score every single candidate who you interview, so that three months later you will be able to go back to your list, and say, “Let’s just take out anybody that scored a three or lower, and see what we’re left with.”

It may take a lot more time and effort to go through these steps, but in the end, Murphy says, you’re going to wind up with more new hires that successfully fit your organizational culture.

* image by Kallily Photography

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