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Does Culture Matter?



“How management chooses to treat its people impacts everything – for better or for worse.” – Simon Sinek

Having conducted a recent survey on why people leave, I found it interesting that culture was identified as the number one reason that people left their last role. With over 43% of respondents giving this as their rational for leaving, it is clear that company culture cannot be ignored.

The results of the survey pose a few interesting questions as a talent professional – What exactly is culture? How much does culture really matter and why? Is hiring a cultural fit the way forward? And if so, how can you measure and assess this?

So, what is culture and why does it matter?  

Firstly, culture is a loose term with hundreds of definitions – some see it as something vague which cannot be controlled, others see as something simple that can be managed. For me, it sits somewhere between the two.

In my opinion, McKinsey & Company sum this up well, defining culture as:

“As the common set of behaviours and underlying mindsets and beliefs that shape how people work and interact day to day”

Because culture is created by a “common set of behaviours and underlying mindsets and beliefs”, the people who lead your business, and those who sit under them, have a huge impact on the culture throughout the organisation. Essentially, if those running your team have some bad behaviours or beliefs, this will trickle down and have a knock-on effect across the board. A good and bad culture alike can have various effects on your business, some of these are:

  • Correlation with high / low performance
  • Impacts employee engagement
  • Culture impacts agility
  • Research shows impact on long-term financial performance
  • Culture differentiates you from the competition
  • Culture is difficult to replicate
  • Strong Cultures attract the right people  

Finding a Cultural Fit

From a recruitment perspective cultural fit is often talked about – this is how someone fits into an organisations culture. Get it right and you can achieve remarkable things, get it wrong and the culture or subcultures can become toxic.

An article in the Harvard Journal describes Culture fit as the glue that holds an organization together”. That is why it is a key trait to consider when recruiting. The result of poor culture fit due to turnover can cost an organization between 50-60% of the person’s annual salary, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Cultural fit is important in any recruitment process and is even more critical when making senior hires. Over the years, it is something I have heard clients ask for repeatedly when discussing assignments. When we ask clients how they assess cultural fit the answer is often “it’s down to gut feeling” or “we get the applicant to complete a psychometric test”. I would argue this is too simple a view, and to truly assess cultural fit it must be a two-sided process. The required behaviours needed for a role, and by the company, should be assessed by both the client and the candidate.  

So, how do we assess cultural fit?

At Corvus, our Executive Search methodology, Corvus Assured, makes this a little more scientific and is based on leading research into behavioural assessments. We use several behavioural tools that use AI to check for alignment between the clients needed and expected behaviours and that of the applicants. The process considers both sides – firstly the desired behaviours for a role, and then the actual behaviours of the person applying.

The starting point for this is to look at client expectations of the role, by having the key people involved in the recruitment process undertake an assessment that shows the key behaviours they want in a role. This is also an opportunity to check that they are aligned internally on what their expectations of the person are. Sometimes this gives interesting results, where clients expectations differ between people internally, and ultimately are misaligned. Clients often welcome this feedback, and it gives them a clearer picture of different perceptions and allows them to consider these in their decision making. Making sure the key stakeholders are aligned before starting the process is key to its success, after all, how can you find a fit if you all are looking for different things.

Some questions to help assess cultural fit

  • What type of culture do they thrive in
  • What type of values are important to them and why
  • What do they know about our company culture
  • What type of working environment do they enjoy

There is no simple, unified, way to assess cultural fit but there are tools to make the process more scientific and robust. 

So, in terms of the question, ‘does culture matter?’ I would say very much so – the Simon Senik quote at the start of this sums this up very eloquently.

If you would like to talk to us about a different approach to recruitment or some fresh thinking for your next hire. Please feel free to reach out. Corvus is a team of highly experienced and passionate consultants who deliver recruitment and HR related solutions to companies in NI, RoI, GB and internationally.

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