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The 12 Factors That Reveal Your Company Culture (and Allow You to Hire Better)

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I just wrote a post suggesting Amazon doesn’t have a culture problem; it has a hiring problem. The idea being that a company’s culture is not defined by its people but by its competition, its environment and its inability to hire the right people. Given this, you need to hire people who fit and work within the real culture, not the imaginary one described by the utopians in HR.

Define Your Real Culture by Considering These 12 Drivers

1. The CEO sets the tone:

Consider Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Jobs, Cook, Bezos, Page, Ellison, Gates and all of the other CEOs most people don’t know. Culture starts at the top. And if it doesn’t, things go out of control at the bottom.

2. The strategy:

There are four primary strategies: operational performance, product excellence, market growth and financial maximization. A company’s culture is affected by its mix.

3. Rate of change:

From start-up to bureaucracy, where a company is positioned on the corporate lifecycle will impact its actual culture.

4. The competition:

A company’s daily activities and its underlying culture is driven by whether it’s vying for sales, investments, the right people or the latest technology.

5. The nature of the industry, function, department, season, economy, etc:

Accounting firms are always busy at tax season, sales is always intense at the end of the quarter, engineering is always trying to meet design schedules, investment bankers always go 24/7 and everybody struggles when the economy collapses.

6. Depth of resources:

Fast-growing companies never have enough people to do all of the work.

7. Rigidity factor:

Changing things is hard to do if the company doesn’t want to change.

8. The quality of the managers:

Great managers can insulate their team members from many of these inherent cultural problems. Weaker ones make things worse. If the manager’s leadership style doesn’t map to the new hire’s management needs, nothing else matters – the person will be less effective than expected.

9. Cultural fit:

Good people in the wrong environment will underperform. Good people in the right environment will excel since they can deal with whatever happens. Cultural fit however is not the feel-good HR speak described on the company’s career page. It’s everything else described here.

10. Capacity to handle change:

Good planning and planning for contingencies enables a company to manage change more effectively. Pressure builds when the actual change required is faster than the ability to handle the change.

11. Performance to plan:

Financial or otherwise, things always get hotter in the kitchen whenever a company, group, division, or department misses its objectives.

12. Time matters:

Pressure builds whenever things have to get done under tight deadlines.

When I take a search assignment I ask the hiring manager to not only define the performance objectives required for job success, but also the environment and culture underlying these objectives. This needs to cover all of the critical factors described above, especially the hiring manager’s leadership style.

When I interview candidates for these jobs, I’m looking for people who have achieved comparable results in comparable environments. While this seems like common sense to me – and backed by extensive research from the Gallup – most managers fight the need to even clarify the performance objectives up front.

Hiring people who fit the cultural requires both: a true understanding of the culture and what it takes to be successful in it. One without the other is a recipe for underperformance, dissatisfaction and turnover. Unfortunately, it’s a recipe used all too often.

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* image by stavos