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Excerpt--Cultural Fit Factor

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The Cultural Fit Factor: Creating an Employment Brand That Attracts, Retains, and Repels the Right Employees

By Lizz Pellet
2009, 168 pages, Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-58644-126-5
SHRMStore Item #: 61.16510

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Excerpt from Chapter 5.


HR professionals understand the need to attract and retain talent. It makes sense. But what about the need to repel? In my opinion, it is as important, if not more important, than the other two. You need to repel the candidates who just won't fit into your culture to increase the ROI of recruitment and retention. 

We know that cultural fit is important in getting the right employee to apply. We know it is up to the organization to take the potential candidate through a real experience during every touch point in the interview process so they can peek behind the curtain. They glean information about the company from what they can find on the web site, social networks, blogs, press releases, and current and former employees. So how do companies boldly state what they are and what they are not in order to weed out a bad fit from applying in the first place? 

I think the best and certainly the most brazen example of this, no matter what beliefs or convictions you hold, is the U.S. military policy commonly referred to as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." This political hot-button issue has gotten a lot of press since the early days of the Clinton administration, but it has been by federal law. The military leadership is clear about the "type" of person that they don’t want. 

OK, so how do you repel candidates without the benefit of it being mandated by federal law? Lots of companies are doing it and with a lot less political heat. 

A discussion of the repel principle wouldn't be complete without talking about religion. Companies with religious ties tend to hire from within their own religion. I once had an HR director attend my full-day intensive workshop on building an employment brand not once, but twice. During our lunch break the second year, I nudged her and jokingly said that since this was her second time attending, she should really just hire me to do some employment branding work for her organization. "Oh, we don't need to build an employment brand," she claimed. I looked at her dumbfounded and asked the obvious question, "Then why did you pay to attend my workshop two years in a row?!" She told me that she needed the credits for her SPHR certification and that my session was great the first time she attended, so she wanted to come a second time. However, she worked for a Baptist university and they did not conduct any recruitment outside the Baptist community, nor did they hire "outside" vendors. This rule of thumb was also confirmed by another faith-based university. Now this isn't something they necessarily advertise, but it's pretty well understood that those who get hired outside the religion are few and far between. 

There are corporations with religious affiliations that can either attract or repel potential candidates, depending on their religious persuasion. Let's look at ChickfilA. This privately-held corporation is the second largest chicken-based fast food chain in the United States and brings in billions of dollars annually. There are company-owned and franchised restaurants in malls, airports, as well as freestanding ChickfilAs. All Chick-fil-A locations are closed on Sundays. They are the only major fast-food chain to do this. Why do they do it? Founder S. Truett Cathy, a devout Southern Baptist, said, "Our decision to close on Sunday was our way of honoring God and directing our attention to things more important than our business. If it took seven days to make a living with a restaurant, then we needed to be in some other line of work. Through the years, I have never wavered from that position." According to their web site, their corporate purpose is "to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us and to have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A." These are definitive statements — Chick-fil-A is rooted in religion. They are clear on what they are and what they are not. 

Am I saying that Chick-fil-A only hires Southern Baptists? With more than 1,400 locations, that certainly is not the case. What I am saying is that Chick-fil-A is clear on what they are. As a potential candidate, you know this going in. You may love the idea that, regardless of your shift or position, you will have every Sunday off, guaranteed. You might be completely repelled by the corporate purpose and fear that you’ll try and be recruited into a religion that isn’t your own. So again, just like U.S. military, whether you like it or not, you know what they are and you know what to expect by joining the organization. 

During my presentations, I ask attendees to raise their hands if they want to be a "Nordie." I never get any takers. Then when I ask who wants to work for a company known for having the best customer service on the planet and hands shoot in the air. It's interesting that just by calling their employees "Nordies," Nordstrom has repelled so many potential candidates right off the bat. But not so fast … candidates who can get past the silly moniker are very proud to be "Nordies." Legend has it that a harried executive, on her way to the biggest meeting of her life, spilled coffee all over her suit while getting into her cab. With literally just minutes to spare, she runs into Nordstrom and grabs the first "Nordie" she sees. He takes one look at her and says, "Walk with me, walk with me, walk with me." As they zip up the aisle, he tells her to look at the mannequins. "Size 14 top and 10 bottom, am I right?" She nods and points to the suit she likes. He grabs the correct sizes off the rack, sends her to the dressing room to change while he races off to the cash register with her Nordstrom’s card in hand. In the three minutes it takes her to change, he's already rung up her purchases and she's able to run out the door to her cab, waiting at the curb. Once she's gone, he realizes that she's forgotten her wool coat. He's able to pull up her home address through her Nordstrom's account and it's shipped back and waiting for her before she even gets home from her business trip. Amazing customer service, right? Oh, I forgot to mention that he had it dry cleaned first. So now do you want to be a "Nordie?" Nordstrom is another organization that is very clear on what they are and what they are not. 

The best example of an organization that knows the value and potential ROI of repel is a story about the Southwest Airlines interview process, back in the late 1980s. It is said that a call for pilots went out and thousands of resumes came in. When the process was narrowed down, groups of 30 were called in to interview and were put in a large conference room. An HR representative bounces into the room, welcomes the prospective pilots, and tells them how special they are to be there. She holds up a blue short sleeved shirt and shorts and tells them before they get started with the interview process, they had to head into the locker room to change into the maintenance uniforms. Once they're changed, they'll meet her on the other side to continue the interview process. One potential pilot raises his hand and says, "Excuse me, but I have black knee high socks on under my trousers, and if I put on those shorts I am going to look like an idiot." She replies, "No you won't — this is Southwest! Now everyone come on!" and out of the room she goes. Next thing you know, all the candidates get up and start heading to locker room, but this fellow holds back, shakes his head and says, "Forget it!" and walks out the front door. In that very moment, he self selected out and Southwest brilliantly repelled a potential employee that did not fit their culture. 

Am I saying that he was a bad pilot? Of course not. In fact, he might have been one of the top pilots in the room but he wasn't the best for Southwest. He didn't fit. He wouldn't be the pilot who comes on the intercom after landing at the gate and says, "All rise!" He is probably a great fit at Continental or Delta but not for Southwest. Southwest Airlines' hiring philosophy was and still is "hire for attitude." Libby Sartain, the former vice president of People at Southwest Airlines said, "If we hire people who don't have the right attitude, disposition, and behavioral characteristics to fit into our culture, we will start to change that culture. The recruiter's primary role is to make sure it's a good cultural fit."

When you (as an organization) know what you are and what you are not, and can clearly articulate that to all potential candidates, you support your ability to repel the candidates that just won't fit. This is where the real hard-dollar savings are experienced.

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