What is the most important factor in successfully recruiting top candidates? If you said things like salary, benefits, or the economy, you’d be wrong. It’s your organizational culture. I have a longer article in the upcoming Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership about the role of organizational culture in the hiring process. To give you a taste of it here … let me first say that when you start to throw around terms like “organizational culture” you may think that it’s academic, or that it’s abstract. It’s not.
How a company approaches the recruiting process and treats candidates during that process says a great deal about the culture and, in turn, reinforces the culture. For example, how a company treats candidates during the recruiting process teaches those candidates a great deal about how to succeed in that company.
In the early 1990s, a certain company, which we’ll call Asteroid Systems, was infamous for its recruiting process: candidates were called back for interview after interview. This process could take weeks, and attempts to call and get information about the process were ignored. Those who were eventually hired had learned the lesson that decisions should be made slowly, that everyone needs to have input, and that it was better to take an arbitrarily long time to make decisions than to make a mistake. This was reflected in how the company did business. While their market was hot, it wasn’t a serious problem, but when competitors moved in, their inability to make rapid decisions or risk mistakes lead to major problems. The candidates who got tired of waiting and went elsewhere were sufficiently invisible to the employees that they did not provide disconfirming evidence for the success of their policy.
Meanwhile, the Wasabi Corporation had a slightly different approach to recruiting. In its case, the people who called constantly and generally made pests of themselves were the ones who were called in for interviews. If you were passive, they didn’t want you. Employees at Wasabi learned from day one that if you wanted to get things done, you needed to take action, and that taking action was rewarded. For the most part, this worked out pretty well for Wasabi. They did have some problems with employees being so pushy that it was difficult to get them to work together, but they were able to solve that.
A brief caution here: do not assume that the best way to hire is therefore to ignore passive candidates and just call in the people who keep making noise. Wasabi’s method worked for them in that time and place and because it connected to the appropriate elements of its culture. If you attempted to just graft that approach on to another company, the results would probably not be so pretty. A common mistake is to take a mechanism from one company and graft it to another. That can work well when the two companies have similar underlying values and beliefs, the why of culture, but can be disastrous when those underlying values and beliefs do not match.
It’s not easy to avoid being like Asteroid Systems. The more enmeshed you are in the culture of the company for which you recruit, the harder it will be. Fish do not discover water, and people who spend their days within a culture tend to take it for granted. This can make it difficult to recognize the subtle and indirect effects of your recruiting approach.
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That said, there are some questions you can ask that will at least point you in the right direction:
- What are the values of the company? How do you know?
- What does the perfect employee look like? Why do you believe that?
- How will you know when you’ve found the right person? What areas of that definition are subjective? What does that subjectivity tell you about the values and beliefs of the organization?
- How does the hiring process reinforce the behaviors your value and discourage those you don’t? How might it do just the opposite?
- How will you know if the people you failed to hire were actually the qualified people?
- How are you measuring the success of your recruiting process in the short-term and in the long-term?
- If you were to view your company as a system of interacting parts, how would your subsystem interface with the rest of the company?
- If you believe you have a culture problem, what are the resources available to you to deal with it?
There are no right answers to these questions. The only wrong answers lie in not taking the questions, and the influence of organizational culture, seriously.