I want YOU to Sustain the Organization’s Culture


Lynn Knight

Lynn Knight is responsible for formulating and executing Talent Function’s consulting business strategies in addition to developing and leading the teams that design and deliver consulting solutions. Lauded by clients for his attention to change management, training, and customer service, Lynn began his career in corporate recruitment and contingent staffing in 1996. He is a Taleo black belt with experience leading project teams of various sizes and scope, specializing in strategic consulting on cloud-based talent acquisition solutions.

Lynn’s work encompasses a broad spectrum of talent management work streams including attraction and selection, candidate relationship management, onboarding, and learning and development. He has helped companies across multiple industries optimize their processes and strategy. His rich skill set includes project management, systems implementation and optimization, service delivery, process improvement, as well as vendor evaluation, selection and management.

Lynn holds a B.S. in Business Administration from Oklahoma State University, is an Oracle Taleo Recruiting Cloud Service Certified Implementation Specialist and a member of the Association of Talent Development – Central Oklahoma Chapter.

Webinar Transcript

Announcer: Lynn Knight is responsible for formulating and executing Talent Function's consulting business strategies, in addition to developing and leading the teams that design and deliver consulting solutions. Lauded by clients for his attention to change management, training, and customer service, Lynn began his career in corporate recruitment and contingent staffing in 1996. He specializes in strategic consulting on cloud-based talent acquisition solutions.

Lynn's work encompasses a broad spectrum of talent management work streams, including attraction and selection, candidate relationship management, on-boarding, and learning and development. He has helped companies across multiple industries optimize their processes and strategy.

Lynn: Thank you for that introduction and good day to everyone. As stated, my name is Lynn Knight. I've worked in talent acquisition for just over 19 years now as both a recruiter and as a consultant. I'm going to presume for purposes of our discussion today that you too are in talent acquisition or HR. And I just want to talk a little bit about something that I've become quite passionate about. And I will warn you, any time I'm passionate, I talk too fast so I'll try to keep that in check.

But over the course of the years I've been in the space, I've become a bit of a culture junkie, if you will. Looking for cultural differentiators and companies that have strong cultures, well-established cultures. And ultimately hopefully cultures that they wish to sustain over time. I'm just going to presume for the sake of argument that, like most organizations, yours has a vision statement. Probably has core values and it more than likely has expected principles and behaviors that define how work should get done. And it's each of these factors and a whole lot more that really combine to form each organization's culture.

So to get our conversation started today, I'd like to talk a little bit about the definition of corporate or organizational culture. Noting that truth be told, there are probably a multitude of definitions available. You see things like values and behaviors. Beliefs and principles are oftentimes mentioned. Along with factors such as the history, the product, the market, technology or strategy of the organization. And then you see things like the systems that are utilized, the habits that employees abide by. And just overall appropriate behavior for various situations within the organization.

And it's the culture that really affects the way that people and groups interact with each other, with clients, with stakeholders. And it's really how we ultimately identify with our organization. So like I said, I'm going to presume that you have a culture that you wish to sustain. We'll talk a little bit about if that's not the case, if you actually have a desire to evolve your culture, so to speak. But we'll get to that a little later on.

As we talk about the factors of culture, again what the organization is about, there's what it does and its mission and its values, as I mentioned. And there's also control systems. You know, processes in place to monitor what's going on. The role the cultures would have in types of rule books, if you will. The organizational structures. The reporting lines and hierarchies. And the way that work flows through the business is all part of the culture. And the power structures. How are decisions made in the organization and who makes those decisions? Who passes them down the line? All of those things. The symbols, the rituals, routines. Even stories and myths about the organization ultimately make up your organizational culture.

But for purposes of our discussion today, I kind of want to boil that down a little bit. Look at both the current state of what makes the company what it is. You know, those core values and such. But also what makes the company what it wants to be. Those things like vision, goals, and mission. Those are really future state. But at the end of the day, I'm curious. How do we ultimately share our corporate culture with others? And with whom do we really share it?

So if you will, I'd submit that if we really boil it all down and we get rid of the buzz words and that overlapping terminology, that culture can be defined as the consistent experience that employees, customers, partners, and candidates have when they interact with your organization. And I think the key word here is "experience." That's really what it is all about, is an experiential aspect.

And if you think about it, in marketing, the brand of your organization is how it's perceived in the market. Developing a good relationship with your target market, your clients and your prospects, is really essential for brand management. And tangible elements of the brand may include the service or the product that you offer, along with the look, the price, the packaging, that sort of thing. But the intangible elements of the brand are the experience that the consumer has with that brand. So by the previous definition, your brand is your organizational culture and thus your culture truly is your brand. And that culture ultimately drives your company.

So how do we make that experience, that brand, if you will, that thing that really does drive our company, truly sustainable? That's what I want to talk about today. And the million dollar question that I have is, who is ultimately responsible for doing so? Unlike branding that often falls on a marketing department, sustaining the organization's culture more often than not I think falls on the shoulder of corporate communications. For employees, as well as senior leaders and executives.

But really I have to wonder, is talking about, is communicating and hopefully reinforcing your culture internally with the existing employees, really enough to sustain it? I doubt it. I'm not convinced. As human resources and talent acquisition professionals, I think we often consider our sole group of clients or consumers to be employees. But we should never forget that, like our prospects on the marketing side, every single candidate who participates in our talent acquisition process is a client or consumer as well. And whether they get hired or not, the experience that they take away from the talent acquisition process is really going to strongly influence, if not ultimately define, your organization's brand to them.

Now for those that do get hired, it's one thing to train both new and existing employees on the vision, the value, the behaviors that they may not have fully understood or perhaps displayed at the time that they were hired. And we know that there will always be some need for cultural communications, coaching, and development once they're on board, at least to some degree. But isn't it a little late at this point? Can we change that paradigm? For those involved in the talent acquisition process, I believe we truly have the opportunity to substantially limit that need to fill in the gaps by recruiting, screening, identifying, and ultimately selecting not just the top performing talent that we desire, but top performing talent that already fits the organization's culture.

I mean, how much easier would it be to sustain that organization's culture if the vast majority of new hires were already a fit? So I would personally contend that when we ask the question, "Who is responsible," that a substantial part of that responsibility for sustaining organizational culture falls on the shoulders of those involved in the talent acquisition process. That means recruiters, hiring managers, talent scouts. You know, all of those that are part of that recruiting and selection process. All HR professionals who perform recruiting functions. So that's what we're going to spend a little time talking about today.

So let's discuss some ways that we, as HR or talent acquisition professionals, can impact the experience that they have when they interact with our organizations. And hopefully in a positive way. So first up, I have to talk about social media. Obviously a big deal in this day and age. And when I look at this, I think there's kind of two sides to the coin that we need to discuss. Now from a recruiting perspective, having a well-defined social media brand can obviously help attract the best passive candidates.

But according to research, companies now know that they have to sell their workplace cultures, not just to attract the right candidates, but to influence their decisions about where to work and to attract like-minded talent. Now I'm guilty of this myself when it comes to social media. I love to post about my company or tweet about my company. But I often focused on the "what" and not the "why." And I think that the social media's really the ideal medium for you to broadcast items about your mission statement or your culture in order to attract high-quality candidates.

With mobile being the dominant way that millennials communicate and operate, the way that companies will ultimately find talent in the future will continue to trend more towards the use of social media as connections are made based on things like geo-location proximity, interest, passions, experiences. You know, those things ultimately translate to culture.

And so on the flip side, I think that what's often overlooked is social media's usefulness to recruiters and hiring managers, as both a sourcing and a screening tool for new talent. Especially when it comes to finding talent with that perfect cultural fit. Because traditionally I think social media's importance to recruiting has been limited to the way we've used it to weed out candidates who might be a bad fit. In other words, those unprotected tweets and posts that can really do serious damage when recruiters like ourselves are evaluating candidates as potential employees.

But social media on staple networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter has become really a convenient and comprehensive way for recruiters to find, like, if you will, and connect with candidates. Because filtering them through the lens of their Facebook profiles, their Twitter feeds, and other platforms really helps determine whether prospects would fit the culture of the company.

I saw a quote recently that said, "Social media allows not only information about a candidate's experience and skills, but a better glimpse into their lifestyle, values, and their cultural fit. Which is crucial for companies looking not just to recruit and hire, but also to engage employees and improve retention rates." That in and of itself talks about sustaining corporate culture.

So let's change gears a little bit and assume that we've attracted those candidates through our social media and so forth. And let's move on to the company website. Often a good place to get company information via the About Us link or what have you. Oftentimes, this is the first place that candidates go to identify job opportunities and really to begin to determine their potential for a cultural fit. If you think about it though, when it comes to ATS and the CRM capabilities, a lot of that content may be misdirected or may just be absent. It goes without saying in this day and age that a visually appealing, easily navigable, mobile-enabled, and searchable career site is an absolute must.

But we have to stop looking at the content in that career section as just job postings and really see it as what it is, a complex advertisement for attracting job seekers. And companies should absolutely be using them to represent their brand and to communicate the culture that candidates can expect to encounter. So I've got to ask, this begs really the question for me, when is the last time that you navigated your career site to find or apply for a job? I mean, have you ever really looked at your organization through the eyes of a candidate? And if so, great. Congratulations.

But how was your experience? And ultimately how did you perceive the culture? I think we have to ask ourselves, much like marketing does on the branding side, we have to ask, what would the candidate want to see? What is it that they want to know about our organization? And it's that type of content that we need to be providing on our career section.

Within that career section, we of course have job descriptions. That's the one thing that candidates are most likely to look at in great detail, are the job descriptions. So before we just go developing yet another mundane job description focused on tasks, I encourage you to reexamine them and really incorporate specific references to your organizational culture. Things like including your full mission statement, either in the introduction to the job or even just in the footer of the page, so that it's always there.

Don't again just focus on the tasks. Offer an explicit description of the culture and values within the context of those tasks. Things like, "We work in a collaborative, team-based environment. There are no private offices in our space. Camaraderie is a value shared among all staff." Those are the kinds of things that will call attention to a candidate and determine whether or not they fit that type of work getting done. It's not just the task, but it's how the work gets done.

So also things like, if being results-oriented is an important part of your organization's culture, then share things like statistics of program successes. Use language that mirrors specific values, such as "collaboration" or "producing results." And when listing those famous candidate qualifications, include specific values or competencies that you're seeking. Things like "entrepreneurial" and "flexible." Not just the line item qualifications we've all become accustomed to.

If diversity is an attribute of your organization, make sure that's communicated. And then at the end of the day, once you're going beyond your career section and posting these jobs elsewhere, make sure that you choose channels that reflect your organization's culture. Make sure there's alignment and cohesiveness in where you're putting those jobs. So keep those things in mind. Again, the social media, the career section, the job description are all things that we can use to communicate.

One thing that I think goes sometimes unnoticed or undiscovered is core competencies for the organization. And by definition, core competencies are the combination of skills, job attitude, and knowledge which is reflected in job behavior and that can be observed, measured, and evaluated. Competencies really is a determining factor not only for successful performance, but for cultural fit because quite frankly the focus is on behavior. And again, remember that job descriptions look at "what," whereas competencies focus on "how."

When you think about traditional job description analysis, it looks at the elements of the job, defines it into that sequence of tasks that's necessary to perform the job. But competency analysis studies the people who do the job well, and then defines the job in terms of the characteristics and behaviors of those people. Characteristics and behaviors. Also known as culture.

So some companies do competency analysis for specific jobs or job families but at the very least, try to take the big picture view and determine which competencies are truly core to your organization. And then incorporate them into your social media. Your career section. Your job posting. And more importantly into your screening and selection process.

And lastly in terms of the data or the content, I think you should consider...regarding sustaining corporate culture, I think we should look at aligning those skills and abilities that are in the job descriptions, as well as the core competencies, to identify what I like to call winning attributes. These are things that are characteristic of high performance and high success for an employee at your company. You may call them something else in your organization, like success attributes or predictors for success, things like that.

This is the closest thing we have to predictive analytics in this stage of the game because it identifies, through the recruiting and selection process, things that we need to be looking for and it also translates to performance and development down the line. And there's advantages for recruiters and hiring managers, like helping identify the performance criteria that will improve the accuracy and really ease that hiring and selection process. It really clarifies the standards of excellence and sets performance expectations. It provides a clear foundation for dialog that can occur down line about performance, development, and career-related issues.

But on the flip side, there's advantages for candidates and for employees as well because that success criteria, those things that we would call behavioral standards of performance excellence, if you will, or winning attributes, that's what's required to be successful in the role. So they've now got an objective assessment of their strengths or their weaknesses and they can identify targeted areas for professional development.

So it really works out into developmental tools and methods for enhancing their success, not only as a candidate, a new hire coming on board, but as a long-term employee as well. And by the way, as we talk about all of these elements of sustaining corporate culture, I think that one of the best ways to identify those talking points if you will...that you can and should share with candidates in regards to your social media strategy, career section content, JD's core competencies, winning attributes, all the things we talked about, is to survey your current employees.

But particularly I would ask you to focus on top performers. Perhaps the top 10 percent. That's a method we've used at previous clients quite successfully. If you identify what's important to them in the corporate culture, ask them to take the candidate's perspective and then make sure they and ultimately you are able to answer questions like, "Why would I want to work here," and, "Who works here?" "What's different about this organization versus what I'm doing now," and, "What's the culture like and how it is unique?" Those are things that we look for from an employee engagement perspective and they quite frankly can translate into a value add for sustaining culture within the recruiting and selection process.

So let's assume now that we've used all this information. We've gotten the word out. We've attracted and engaged the candidate and perhaps they've applied. With all that information in mind, one of the things I see way too often is too many recruiters, and perhaps organizations as a whole, that tend to look at one key quality in the identification of top performers. And that is the skill-set match. Now don't get me wrong. Having the requisite professional or technical skills is very important. But job skills are just one element of the overall equation.

Recruiters are likely asking questions that are meant to simply confirm that a candidate possesses those professional or technical skills during the resume review, during the phone screen, etc. And then once candidates get scheduled to interview with the hiring managers, it's quite possible and if not likely that those managers haven't been properly trained as interviewers and are likely asking ineffective interview questions.

So they may know the desired skill-set inside and out. That's the daily life of a manager. They know what it's all about. But are they often incorrectly identifying or assessing things like leadership capabilities and culture fit, if they're doing so at all? I think that the bottom line is we've been fooled into thinking that hiring the most skilled candidate will produce a high achiever, a high performer. And that's just wrong. The fact is organizations with that kind of myopic view should begin to shift away from simply hitting the skills related bull's-eye and focus more on the entire dartboard, if you will.

I think that begins, you know, we begin that by reexamining the way we assess and score candidates and recognize that things like culture fit, as well as leadership capabilities, are every bit, if not more important than the skill-set match. And I'll admit, I actually encourage companies to place higher value on evaluations of candidates on the culture fit then on the skill-set match. Doing so, I believe can not only help sustain the organization's culture, but improve the company's overall growth and performance over time.

I mean, what makes a successful employee at your company? If you say it focuses on a "what," professional technical skills means that you hire people who are great at what they do. But focusing on the "who" makes a successful employee at your company means you're looking at things like leadership capabilities and culture fit. And that means you hire great people. That's pretty solid paradigm shift to consider.

So coming full circle, it is the combination of these things that is critical. So for professional and technical skills, does the candidate have the training and education to do the job? Hopefully so. Does the candidate have the ability and the behaviors to not only do the job well, but to lead others in doing so? Again, hopefully so. But again, does the candidate do the job the way that your company does? Or wants to? It's just an absolute requirement if your desire is to sustain the culture that currently exists. Again, it's this combination that we are ultimately looking for.

Now there is one other category of winning attributes that I have to throw in here and I recommend that you incorporate it into your recruiting, selection, and hiring process. And that's a two-word term that I learned about called learning agility. Now by definition, learning agility is a person's ability to learn from their experience and to change their future actions as a result. It's a strong predictor that a person will perform well in challenging, first-time situations and that they have the potential to succeed at high levels of responsibility.

In fact, research has revealed that the single best predictor of who will climb to high levels in the organization is learning agility. Well, how do you do that? Basically within the interview selection process, you look for the potential within candidates. When they say things like, "I used to be like this," that's kind of the input. "But then this happened," and it refers to the experience that they had. And then they say, "Now I'm like this and I've applied it in this situation." That output. So it's that ability to communicate that they've changed their behavior as a result of past experience and that they continue to apply that learning. That is something that is absolutely associated with high performers.

Now with all this being said and not to complicate things, but just because the candidate doesn't have everything that you seek right now, doesn't mean that they shouldn't be considered a potential fit to the organization. Because depending upon your core competencies, you have to kind of try and determine how difficult it might be for a typical professional to be trained on or develop any of the identified skills, leadership capabilities, culture fit, learning agility attributes, all of those things that we've talked about and incorporate that in your evaluation of each candidate. So look at those things that can be developed versus those things that cannot be developed. They're just innate. So it's kind of a nice-to-have versus a must have, a price of admission sort of a thing. So I definitely encourage you to incorporate that.

But as we look at putting all of this together into our recruiting, selection, and hiring life cycle, in order to sustain corporate culture and really kind of predict the future, how do we do this in the context of the selection process? Now you may hate me for saying this, but I personally believe the answer is behavioral interviews. Because by using structured behavioral interviews, not only will your company experience improved quality of hires, a more comfortable interview process for everyone involved, better information to make hiring decisions, and more standardization and thus legal defensibility, but this is something that is absolutely focused on disclosing examples of behavior in the past and the behavioral interview process is specifically intended to disclose, and in detail, those examples of past behavior because it's based on the principle that past behavior predicts future behavior.

So one way you're going to be able to see into the future through the crystal ball, so to speak, and ensure that you sustain your corporate culture is through behavioral interviews. I encourage you to look for potential today in those candidates, determine whether or not they can be a perfect candidate tomorrow. And by perfect fit, that means, you know, a future leader, a cultural fit, etc. Because what they can do tomorrow could make all the difference in your organization.

I want to call out an example I came across not too long ago related to Airbnb. And last year, Airbnb received 180,000 resumes for 900 positions. Now their first preference for filling jobs is to look inside and then after that, to look externally but to start with employee referrals. And every candidate that makes it through to an interview goes through a set of interviews, not only related to their role, but in addition, they have two behavioral interviews that are specifically related to core values. Or in our discussion, corporate culture. And these interviews are conducted by people that are hand-selected by the founders and they're outside of the function for which they're interviewing. They talk with the candidates about their experience, their understanding, their mindset related to Airbnb, so that they can assess that culture fit.

In the article, Airbnb's global head of employee experience says that, "These interviews focus on our core values to determine how, in their life, they have lived these values in order to make sure that anyone who comes to Airbnb is going to be successful in living these values." Now he goes on to say that everyone should believe in their mission and there's some specific details about their culture, but he says, "The minute that people start talking about job titles or are more interested in the equity over changing the world through connecting people via local and authentic travel experiences, we know that they're probably barking up the wrong tree." And he concludes the statement by saying, "We're very true to our core values in the hiring process." And I encourage you to do the same obviously.

So real quickly I am going to talk about a potential example of cultural differences, to further enhance the importance of fit. Let's assume your company has a very prescriptive way of doing things and is very strict about not coloring outside the lines. Basically creating a core value that requires employees to ask for permission. Now assume that your company is interviewing a candidate who doesn't really prescribe to that way of thinking. They don't ask for permission. They don't color inside the lines. Rather they act independently and then beg for forgiveness if the results aren't as desired.

And it's this kind of a paradigm shift that if it goes unmeasured or uncontrolled, could unwantingly sway your corporate culture in a direction you did not wish for it to go. So again, behavioral interviewing uncovers how people deal with specific situations in the past. With follow-up, probing questions, we can understand why they choose specific actions. What they outcomes were. What they learned from their experience and if they were able to use it in a future situation. That I think is just absolutely critical to our process. So again, it all comes down to your culture. You need to integrate the candidate into everything that will impact them. Your process, your systems. The actions, behaviors, and beliefs of your leaders and your employees.

So kind of bringing this to a close, to put the pieces together, when assessing the culture fit after the interview, assess if the candidate has the experience, the expertise, and ability in those competences that are critical to the role. Keep an open mind. Weigh the data sufficiently. Consider things that aren't said. You know, are they avoiding something that's critical? Evaluate the broader context of their points and the past and present behaviors. And then look for patterns and themes and connect the dots. And really do assess their overall culture fit. Do they get work done the way you do at your company?

A wise man once said that in the end, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And this is not only true when examining culture fit for each candidate, but when defining the culture of your organization among all employees. So the sum of your corporate culture is really more than the individual employees that make up your organization. So wrapping it up. Skills define what the work is. Culture defines how the work gets done. And that can make all the difference in the world. I thank you for your time today and wish you well.