How to Recruit for a Winning Work Culture

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer March 22, 2016

So your organization has been deemed a “best place to work.” Now what? How do you communicate the company’s winning culture and values to job seekers? And how do you ensure that new hires will be a positive complement to that culture?

A useful barometer can be found by looking at the common attributes of Glassdoor’s employees' choice 50 Best Places to Work 2016. Award winners were determined using feedback shared on the site throughout the past year. The average employer rating on Glassdoor is 3.2 out of 5. Airbnb topped the 2016 list as a result of 276 employee reviews that rated the company a 4.6 overall. Other winning employers include Bain & Company, Guidewire, Hubspot, and Facebook.

“Some people think that getting on the list comes from providing extravagant perks,” said Dawn Lyon, vice president of corporate affairs at Glassdoor. “You do not need to offer free lunch to all your employees to be a Best Place to Work.” Instead, based on the millions of reviews submitted to Glassdoor, Lyon said a common denominator of winning companies is culture.

Lyon defined winning culture as:

  • Emanating from the top and permeating down through the organization.
  • Having a mission to believe in, with purpose-driven work.
  • Putting people first. “This is something you can’t just give lip service to,” she said. “It’s about how you behave. Is it always the bottom line, or do you treat people as if they have lives outside of work and acknowledge their whole selves? We see that time and time again in winners’ reviews.”

Tom Gimbel is president and CEO of Chicago-based staffing firm LaSalle Network, which ranked No. 36 on Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work list for small and midsize companies. “Culture happens. It’s the people that make the culture and it starts from the top. You can say you want to have a fun culture, and try to force-feed it down employees’ throats, but culture is when top down meets bottom up,” he said.

Communicating a Winning Culture

Culture and engagement has been the “secret sauce of our success,” said Jeff Selander, chief people officer at health care technology firm Health Catalyst, based in Salt Lake City.

Health Catalyst came in at No. 7 on Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work list for small and midsize companies.

But how well companies communicate that winning culture in the recruitment process is “very difficult to measure,” he said. While there’s no silver-bullet method to communicate culture to candidates, there are several channels to work through, including:

  • The company website. “We make sure to emphasize our mission, cultural attributes and operating principles and put them front and center for all to see, hoping that as candidates begin to have interest in us, they take some time to learn about us on our website,” Selander said.
  • Social media. Health Catalyst shares customer success stories and “how much fun we have here at work” testimonials on platforms like YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter, he said.
  • Glassdoor. Selander said the site “has been a tremendously successful tool for us in communicating our culture. The anonymity gives credibility that candidates won’t ignore. We take the comments very seriously and try to learn from everything people say about us.” Selander reads and responds to nearly every comment made on the site and asks people to review the company profile on Glassdoor as part of the recruiting process, “so that they hear about our culture through a third-party resource.”
  • The employees themselves. “There is no better way we’ve found for people to learn about our culture than from talking with people who actually live and know our culture best—our team members,” he said. In 2015, over half of new hires came to know Health Catalyst through contact with its workforce via referrals, conferences, social media and affinity groups.

Finding a Match 

Maintaining a winning culture comes from hiring the right people. But determining a matching cultural fit during the recruitment process is not an easy task. “It’s hard,” Gimbel said, explaining that sometimes there’s a disconnect in expectations between hiring managers who need to fill a position quickly and the C-suite, who expect the best hire possible.

“So you’ve got to identify the characteristics of the culture you want,” he said. “Sometimes people present themselves one way during the interview and then they are someone else in reality. We make sure that people interviewing for one department are interviewed by different levels of people from other departments to get various perspectives.” 

At Health Catalyst, everyone involved in the interview process evaluates each interaction with a candidate within the framework of the company’s fundamental hiring criteria, which are demonstrating humility, working hard and being smart. “In essence, we look for people that are humble enough to love working in teams, recognize their mistakes and learn from them, and put the good of others in front of their own; smart enough to have a curiosity to always be learning and innovative; and hardworking enough to know how to stay until the job is done, while maintaining work/life balance,” Selander said. 

Interviews are structured with both questions to test skills, and behavioral questions to determine demonstration of cultural attribute qualities, he added.

The Airplane Test

Gimbel believes there’s too much focus on whether the person can do the job and not enough on actually liking the candidate. “Whether or not the manager and colleagues like a new hire is cultural fit,” he said. “When people hire someone and say ‘I don’t like the person but I think they can do the job,’ that kills me.”

Gimbel said that he takes note of minor but telling actions during the interview process: Is the candidate dressed and groomed professionally? Does he or she make eye contact, deliver a firm hand shake, get up and acknowledge when someone enters the room, and respond to questions with conviction?

He will also employ what he calls the airplane test: “Would I be willing to sit next to him or her for four hours trapped in a confined space and enjoy the time?”

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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