This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
Culture is the lifeblood of a company. It's not a buzzword nor is it about free lunch or the foosball table; it's about your principles. These principles need to be understood across the organization as they are the foundation of your company and affect every aspect of your business from decision-making, and your competitive advantage to ultimately your long-term success.
In most companies, culture is something qualitative. It's hard to measure and often lacks the scientific approach taken with other business units. When you're hiring, this makes it difficult to gauge the cultural fit of a potential candidate – you need more than your good old gut feel. It is critical that your team is skilled as well as accountable when it comes to driving the organization's success through proper talent acquisition.
The following approach can help ensure you are bolstering your culture with every hire.
1. Create and over-communicate your principles.
Principles can vary from an entrepreneurial spirit to a team-centred approach. Whatever it is, make sure your principles are clearly defined, communicated often and used as an underpinning in everything you do.
When training a sports team, the same basic drills are run repeatedly to ensure fundamental skills are mastered – an important foundation for success. Similarly, continually communicate your principals internally to ensure they are engrained and exuded across the organization. Whenever possible, show your team how your corporate strategy ties back to your principles so employees understand the importance of culture and how it contributes to your success.
Your company's culture is not a secret – publicize what you stand for and you will attract the right type of people. Zappos has done a great job of this by actually publishing The Zappos Family Culture Book which highlights core values and incorporates the employee perspective on culture.
2. Build an expert team of interviewers.
Always think about your next generation of leaders – as part of early management grooming, coach several team members to become expert interviewers who are able to test for core principles during the interview.
A structured approach to interviewing will help remove biases and ensure a consistent approach to evaluation. Your organization's principles should be assessed throughout the entire recruiting process from introductory conversations to technical interviews.
Remember that interviewers are often the first point of contact for potential candidates. The interviewer must be an ambassador of your culture and brand. Practice interviewing to master messaging and approach but remember to be yourself to have an authentic setting in the interview.
3. Get to the core of the candidate.
Many people know how to ace an interview. Here are some approaches to get to know the true candidate:
Use precision questioning to strategically probe on grey areas so you can get the facts. Avoid a list of pre-set interview questions and instead identify key points your candidate covers in conversation that relate to your principles, then hone in for further clarity. This will ensure you are confident about cultural alignment.
Peel the onion.
Dive deep into past experiences as they are a better indicator of principles as compared to future scenarios.
Avoid a linear questions.
Have an in-depth discussion about accomplishments to determine someone's motivation and contribution. If you are testing for 'entrepreneurial spirit,' really drill down on the specifics of how a project was accomplished. This will determine involvement and influence. For example, was the person given leadership direction or did they take their own initiative? Do they have the 'fight' to overcome challenges? Do they care about the bigger picture? Did they go the extra mile and did their effort benefit the company?
Test using a typical work scenario.
Give the candidate a challenging take-home assignment you can use to gauge job performance and have them come back to present their solution. This will allow you to measure decision making and analytical skills, the ability to communicate, openness to feedback and ultimately interaction with the team. Interview in groups and have a typical setting that is indicative of your culture.
Invest the time.
Conduct multiple interviews. For small to medium-sized businesses, if a company founder can take the time to meet with most candidates it will be worth it in the long run – founders exude the DNA of the company and have an intuition like no other.
4. Have a post-interview huddle after every round.
Throughout the interview process, each interviewer should provide feedback on how the candidate measures up against the company's principles and indicate if they should move forward. A simple methodology such as assigning red flags (deal breaker) or yellow flags (further testing needed) on specific areas of the candidate will allow your team to align quickly and expedite the hiring process.
Remember, invest the time upfront to ensure your entire team understands what defines your culture and how that contributes to the success of your business. When you learn to hire for the right cultural fit, you can quickly create trust and synergy in teams as well as the ability to rapidly scale your organization. In this competitive marketplace, hiring the right talent can make or break the sustainability of your business. Never compromise on culture.
David Au-Yeung is the co-founder and managing director of engineering for Wishabi Inc. (@getflipp), a creator of digital interactive ads for retail clients.