What's Your Firm's Culture and Talent Philosophy
We All Have One But May Not Know What It Is
Years ago, when I was recruiting for the semiconductor industry, managers frequently insisted on hiring graduates of MIT, Cal Poly, or similar top-rated engineering schools. They equated excellent schools with outstanding employees.
But, we discovered that graduates of those schools had the highest turnover and the lowest performance ratings of all our college hires. Graduates of schools that offered a more hands-on education stayed longer and performed better. Yet, the differences between these graduates had nothing to do with ability, education, or the schools they attended. What differentiated them was their expectations about working for our firm.
What the graduates of these top-rated schools expected and what their managers expected were not aligned. As we analyzed the data and interviewed some of those grads and their peers we learned a lesson that I have never forgotten. Culture matters.
We were hiring graduates that had strong theoretical backgrounds in math and science and were great at creating scenarios and crunching data. They loved research and developing new circuits. But what we needed were hands-on application engineers. People who enjoyed solving the day-to-day problems in making circuits.
This cultural gap led to lots of dissatisfaction and ultimately to them leaving for R&D jobs. We would not have hired them if we had better understood our practical, hands-on culture where R&D was minimal. Our managers were not thinking about the traits that led to good performance or whether they would be comfortable in our culture but were focused on the prestige of these schools.
Knowing your culture and who excels in it is critical knowledge for any recruiter.
How would you describe the culture of your company> What are the key traits that lead to success?
Describing a culture is complex, and very few recruiters or hiring managers can spell theirs out. I often get confused looks and awkward attempts to explain when I ask. But we all know when a candidate or employee does not fit our culture.
Being able to distill the essence of an organization’s culture into a few well-thought-out words or a concise statement is worth a lot. There is one way to do this that I have frequently used. I ask a variety of people to come up with sentences that describe the company’s attitudes or practices in leadership, development, innovation, and so on. (A few of these questions are listed below.) Their answers will give you a pretty good idea of how people feel about the culture and help you understand your real talent philosophy..
As Eik Thyrsted Brandsgård, Group Business Agility Leader of LEGO, says “When you have an organization that has been organically growing over 90 years, then the culture is embedded in the language and the behaviors of the people working in the organization.”
We often call the collective personality of an organization its organizational culture. For example, Apple might be described as perfectionist, controlling, modern, and demanding, while Microsoft might be characterized as Yuppie, Gen X, brash, or arrogant. IBM as stuffy, old school, traditional.
Customers and candidates form opinions about an organization's culture from its brand, career site, and how it responds to questions, but most of all from contact with employees.
Many recruiters recognize the value of understanding the organizational culture and finding people who are a good cultural fit. However, it is very hard to know who the right people are until the specific traits that make up this culture are articulated clearly.
While you and hiring managers may instinctively hire people who act or think in ways compatible with your organization’s culture, we often make mistakes and even misjudge what the culture demands. And hiring managers often hire people who reflect their style rather than the organization.
The basis of a talent philosophy is the organization’s values and culture. Taking the time to articulate and define your firm’s talent philosophy will enhance your success and improve the productivity and retention of the people you hire.
Your Philosophy Reflects How You Treat Employees
One surest way to define your talent philosophy is to ask how your firm thinks about its employees. IBM had a philosophy of hiring young people, usually right after college, and promoting them internally after a rigorous internal development process. They hired for certain traits: people who wanted a career and were eager to learn—those who were open to new opportunities and willing to wait for a promotion. I do not know whether or not IBM hired deliberately for these traits, but they were reflected in the kinds of people who stayed and thrived there.
Other organizations have philosophies that are far more difficult to decipher because they have many sub-cultures. By not defining a common talent philosophy, firms confuse prospective employees and often create internal conflicts when policies and actions are not applied consistently. This is particularly true of newer firms that have not yet had the time to evolve a distinct personality.
Alignment between Traits and Practice
Frequently I work with organizations that have a talent philosophy but one that is not reflective of reality. It is often more a statement of what they want the philosophy to be rather than what it is.
It may state how the organization is committed to employee development and internal promotion, yet they almost always hire new people from outside. Or it may contain statements about work/life balance when in reality, everyone works 60 hours a week.
Talent philosophies are never deliberately created but rather emerge from the culture and the assumptions your and hiring managers make about how people will behave or about what they want from the workplace. Taking the time to define and understand the talent philosophy of your organization will enhance your success and improve the productivity and retention of the people you hire.
The questions below may help you define your organization’s culture and talent philosophy.
Eight Tough Questions to Answer
#1. What single characteristic is considered most important by hiring managers in a potential candidate? For example, is it the school they attended, where they have worked, or their reason for wanting to work in this organization? Determining if there is a universal characteristic helps to define the culture.
#2. If there are two equally well-qualified candidates for a job, what determines the final choice?
#3. What are the personality styles, traits, and habits of those who get promoted or seem to be the most highly regarded in your organization?
#4. How does the organization deal with poor-performing employees?
#5. Who are considered the most valuable employees in your organization? What distinctive traits or characteristics do they have?
#6. How do major decisions get made? Are they made by consensus, a majority viewpoint, or a single person?
#7. What does an employee have to do/demonstrate to be considered for a promotion?
#8. What value overrides all other values? Usually, there is one value that all decisions rest on in the end. Is it frugality? Is it cost? Is it community good? Is it shareholder opinion?
A truly honest understanding of your assumptions about people and their careers and a solid analysis of what common traits employees should have will go miles in improving the quality of the candidates you hire.
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