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Posted 08/22/2014

Adding “Cultural Fit” into Your Hiring Practice

A healthy selection process is a lot like good gardening. Companies that fail to pay attention to and critically assess the cultural fit of job candidates are missing a fabulous opportunity to plant healthy seeds and thus shape the future of their “organizational garden.” They are also apt to inadvertently sew seeds that will not grow well in their soil. Worse yet, they may allow “weeds” to slip in. The result is a lot of unnecessary work and waste. A most successful workplace was a major plant start-up in southeastern North Carolina. A multi-national organization was building an electro-mechanical, metal fabrication type of manufacturing facility in the middle of farm country. This would be a brand new culture – a “high-involvement employee culture” - which could be shaped, uncomplicated by any existing unspoken rules of conduct. There were very few candidates in the region with adequate job skills. We KNEW we needed to select for “trainability” as well as for “teamwork” (and many other important traits). Ours would be a “continual learning workplace” and, ultimately, a workplace in which employees found themselves trained, ready and empowered to make decisions typically reserved for management personnel. We were extraordinarily careful with our selection process as we knew it would greatly impact the organization we would become. Very few organizations will have the wherewithal and organizational willpower to take all the steps that we did. In retrospect, however, our efforts to ascertain cultural fit paid great dividends. Working cooperatively with the local employment office, job candidates were first tested for basic math and reading skills. Subsequently, they were interviewed (using behaviorally-based interview questions) by a mixed panel of employees, including a manager, a professional, and three manufacturing associates from the shop floor. Subsequently, interviewees qualified to participate in 160 hours of “pre-hire training” at the local community college. These classes were taught in the evenings by actual plant personnel and involved math, blue-print reading, and interpersonal skills training. Classes involved numerous visits and tours in our actual workplace. There were plenty of opportunities for company personnel and future co-workers (in the form of classmates) to witness and, eventually, “weed out” individuals whose behaviors (as demonstrated in these numerous opportunities to interface) were inconsistent with our stated values. Candidates who “passed” these classes became eligible for hire pending a final interview with yet another, different mixed employee panel. Our applicant-to-hire ratio was over 30:1. We screened many thousands of job seekers to staff our manufacturing facility. Ultimately, this remarkably high level of pre-hire scrutiny and exposure to management and future co-workers paid off. Selected candidates routinely did well in their post-hire experience which included: pay-for-knowledge, pay-for-skill, and apprenticeship programs. They also generated by far the highest employee satisfaction survey scores in that far-flung $4 billion multi-national organizational. Moreover, they attained 100% on-time shipping records year-after-year, 100% of their customers would recommend them to other buyers, and the plant commanded over 51% of the demand for their product in the USA. Finally, a mere six years after the first employees were selected for “teamwork”, “trainability” and several other aspects of cultural fit, this manufacturing facility was named “America’s Best Plant”, a designation awarded annually by Industry Week Magazine. While the wild success of that particular venture cannot be attributed solely to our pre-hire selection for cultural fit, you cannot grow such a garden without first planting “good seed.” Take a critical look at your work environment and its culture. Strong consideration given up front to the people you put into your organization can yield enormous payoffs in the long-run. It is a most worthwhile investment of your time.