The Importance of Culture and Diversity in Successfully Building an Organization

Mar 24, 2009

Finding, maintaining, and growing the right talent is crucial to business success, especially in this economy. But academic intelligence and a strong resume are not necessarily the most critical elements of a top candidate. It can be much more crucial to fit into the corporate culture, its inner values, rituals, rites, and perspectives, with a compatible personality, creativity, flexibility, and social adaptability.

The right culture fit may be even more important than having a top degree. Although education remains an important factor, the best people for the top jobs may not be the ones who are the most educated.

There are a number of people in the hospitality industry, including board members, who have reached fairly senior positions without having a college degree.

Many started their career in high school or college, gained significant positions of responsibility, got married, and dropped out of school. Today, they are in top positions at thriving companies and considered leading executives by their competitors.

On three different occasions, I conducted searches for top executives in the hospitality industry with clients who initially said the position necessitated finding a person who had a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Each time they agreed, in the end, to consider candidates without a degree.

In one of the searches, I placed a candidate who did not have a degree but was a strong self-starter, a respected leader, and a great fit for the corporate culture.

Corporate culture starts at the top with the vision and strategy of leaders who recognize the value of a team in sync.

As managers hire new talent, they need to know the art of matchmaking, beginning with the knowledge that excellent credentials and skills alone are not enough. The company must also identify core values that can be matched by a candidate’s personal integrity, intellectual honesty, respect, passion, initiative, and a desire to succeed.

In order to match a candidate to a company’s culture, it is important to thoroughly understand in what type of business environments the candidate has been successful, as well as to identify the candidate’s SWEAT (strengths, weaknesses, experiences, aspirations, and talents).

With this fuller understanding, the most appropriate person can be more easily matched to corporate needs and expectations. The end result has to be an environment that fits the culture where the candidate is capable of making a positive contribution.

Companies that understand their own cultural style and can identify a matching approach in potential candidates are able to make more informed decisions about the kind of people they need to round out their team with compatible expectations. It’s important to know not just how the company currently operates, but also how it envisions its future.

Whether the company needs to mirror its own environment with new leaders who can carry an existing vision, or needs to install a change agent who is “hands on” and tough enough to deal with some weak links in the organization, an underlying understanding of the corporate culture can mean the difference between success and failure.

Effective Interviews

Once a corporate culture has been identified, the next step to choosing compatible candidates begins with effective interviews and observations of compatible personalities, behavioral traits, experience, and communication. Such criteria as operating style and level of risk-acceptance need to be taken into account, along with reward and recognition systems, values and behaviors, preferred management style, and other factors.

After setting up a meeting with a candidate, I look at how that person will fit in with the organization, as a mirror image or as a change agent. But just meeting with the candidate isn’t enough. We also need to meet with others who will potentially be working with the candidate, executives as well as peers, to best identify needs and “fit.” This allows us to qualify and communicate with the potential candidate more effectively.

The more people you can talk to, the better feel you have for the work environment. This includes demands on time, both inside and outside normal work hours, and some of the nuances that could be a deal-killer with a person who might not be the best choice for recruitment.

It’s also best not to do long-distance matches without knowing the environment of the company. Whenever I do an executive search, I like to physically see the premises. I can describe the opportunity and environment to a prospective candidate much more easily when I can see for myself the demeanor of the employees, the state of cleanliness, and any unique physical amenities provided to the employees (e.g., health and/or daycare centers on the premises, the presence of Foosball or Ping-Pong tables).

A quick measure of the acceptance of diversity in an organization is to look at the top management team. Is it diverse? And if not, why not?

Culture issues are especially important when I am asked by clients to present to them a quality slate of diversity candidates. Outstanding diversity candidates sometimes notice things that others wouldn’t think of, such as any perception of glass ceilings, turnover among diversity employees, examples of successful diversity executives in the organization, and so forth.

Additionally, diversity candidates often also want to know more about the city in which they will be living and have a better understanding of the social life, education institutions, etc., available. A knowledge of these issues can be helpful in attracting top talent to organizations and help to ensure a cultural fit. Determining levels of diversity can also indicate a stronger need for bilingual candidates.

Loyalty Matters

When the corporate culture allows employees to work in sync toward a shared vision with similar values, goals, and chemistry, there is a greater sense of loyalty and commitment. Employees who know the corporate culture understand what the company is all about and have a sense that they belong. Employees who do not fit in or buy into the corporate culture can be disruptive, unproductive and negatively impact the contributions of those who do fit.

As a company needs change, leaders have to be adaptable and able to mold the corporate culture to fit any necessary adjustments by communicating their vision for the company in both words and actions. When the right talent is brought in, the positive results that occur include improved morale, better customer service, and happy shareholders as the stock of the company rises.

Organizations that take the time to build from within and make key outside hires with a focus on culture, diversity, and effective team leadership will be ready to move more quickly and effectively into becoming a formidable and profitable competitor. The bottom line of a business is its people.

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