Analyzing Corporate Culture To Attract And Retain Top Talent
28 October 2020
A culture that promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion, empowers and engages employees, and readily adapts to change is a pivotal factor for attracting and retaining top talent, and for supporting business performance. Yet, an organization’s culture is often seen as a nebulous collection of behaviors that is hard to articulate — it is felt, not spoken.
However, this limiting belief must be overcome during the hiring process. Candidates need to clearly understand the type of environment they are considering to move forward with confidence, and organizations need lucid clarity on who they are to find candidates that fit.
To transform the nebulous to the known, executive search firms employ a comprehensive assessment process to analyze the status quo, as compared to the desired state. And the stakes are high for getting it right.
“The cost of a new hire failing is 1.5-4x the annual salary. Taking time at the beginning of a search to better understand culture is key to avoiding this loss.” — Todd Hohauser, CEO, Harvey Hohauser & Associates
Business leaders can learn from the culture assessment process of executive search firms to help evaluate their own organization’s culture and make sure they are well-positioned to attract and retain top talent.
Step One: Assess Values
Organizations take great care to figure out who they are — or who they want to be — during the creation of marketing materials, mission and value statements, and ‘about us’ guides. Evaluating these resources offers valuable insight into their cultural aspirations.
“We identify management principles, corporate values, and policy guidelines that are influencing factors for the organizational culture and employer branding. This evaluation provides a solid overview of the company and its portrait image.” — Marco Feuerstein, Managing Partner, Level Consulting
Feuerstein’s use of the term ‘portrait image’ is telling — this stage of culture evaluation offers a snapshot that can differ from reality.
“The most sensitive issue usually relates to the gap we may detect between the proclaimed culture highlighted by the published values and the actual one as perceived by the insiders.” — Michel Grisay, Partner, Hoffman & Associates
Carefully advising that some areas may be falling short of their desired standards, allows the client to take corrective action. One of those actions can be to hire a candidate with experience of leading a cultural transformation.
Step Two: Observe Interactions
Observing real interactions between people in the organization, without interfering, brings the evaluation process to life. From meetings to casual encounters, you can observe verbal and body communication, as well as leadership styles.
“As a starter, spending 15 minutes in the reception area can be surprisingly enlightening.” — Michael Eckert, CEO, Höchsmann & Company
Acting as an impartial observer is also possible in the virtual working environment. Replacing the office reception is the Zoom video call, where you can observe how employees interact and communicate with each other.
Often search consultants have a close relationship with their clients that develops over several years, offering ample opportunity to gather rich observational data.
Step Three: Conduct Interviews
Observation expands to direct conversations with all of the stakeholders that would be interacting with the new hire.
“Talking to people up and down the hierarchy of the position is indispensable for the assessment of a company’s real cultural heartbeat.” — Michael Eckert, CEO, Höchsmann & Company
During this process, it is essential to avoid leading questions that encourage bias or canned responses.
“We find it useful not to pose direct questions about culture because this is likely to generate only well-used or socially acceptable phrases instead of a genuine impression.” — Michael Eckert, CEO, Höchsmann & Company
Another important consideration is to not only evaluate the existing culture but to assess what a future-state could look like.
“We will extract from our talks the main cultural elements as of that moment, plus the main cultural elements that are intended to be changed.” — Florin Popa, Partner, K.M.Trust & Partners
Step Four: Create A Success Profile
The culmination of this work can lead to an organization profile that records the current and desired culture and outlines the hard and soft skills required for employees to thrive. Here is an example of a success profile provided by K.M.Trust & Partners.
- Leadership, Ethics, and Governance: How does the organization define it’s business and leadership?
- Soft Skills and Values: Which soft skills are encouraged, and what values should we be seeking in candidates?
- Measurements and Effectiveness: What metrics are being used to evaluate business performance? How is culture being measured?
- Organizational structure and business strategy: Is the business strategy and structure appropriate for the desired culture and business performance?
Success profiles can assist both the candidate and the hiring organization in determining fit by offering clarity around critical areas.
A Commitment To Candor
During culture evaluation processes, no stone can be left unturned, and no doubt or question can go unanswered. Ruthless candor allows the hiring organization to uncover and articulate their truth, and optimize their talent acquisition efforts towards success. When done correctly, executive leaders are left with clarity about who they are, where they are going, and who they need on their team.
This is the first article of a four-part series on how executive search firms help organizations to evaluate, maintain, and shape culture. The series was developed by interviewing search consultants from around the world.