Culturally Speaking…

Company culture is a popular topic these days and rightfully so.  As recruiters we focus on how candidates match our client’s culture as much as (or more than) they match the required skill set.   I see the impact it has on my clients every day, at both ends of the spectrum (hiring/retention).   What is it that makes for a ‘good’ company culture?  Does your company have the right culture?   Can it be defined, or is it situational?   I believe it can be, while at the same time being very situational.


Let’s look at a few things that make up culture, or what defines a company, and I’ll share some observations from my perch as an executive recruiter.

Vision/Mission Statement.

If you don’t have one, get one.  If you have one, your leadership team must mutually accept, embrace and carry it out.  One weak link and the negativity can spread like a virus.  If you think it’s unimportant, you are probably working for a company where a majority of the employees watch the clock and the ones who do take ownership are frustrated.  Have an identity and core beliefs as to why your company exists.  Embrace it.   The best companies have Directors and Managers that define it and demand it from their teams; hiring decisions are made based on it.  They won’t gamble on new hires who have a specific needed skill but may clash with it.


It’s hard to imagine that there are companies out there that would be anti-diversity.  Instead I think it’s that there are a lot of companies that haven’t made an intentional effort to be ‘diverse’.  This weakness will show up in other culture areas for a company usually in the form of old-school traditions and dated systems that resist change and progress.  A small minority of companies resist diversity out of fear, which also highlights a weaker culture.  A strong culture allows a high mix of people, educations, ages and religious beliefs because the vision demands hiring high-caliber/high character and never settling.


You’d think this would be fairly straightforward and that every company has some type of training.  However, there is a distinction between skills training and culture on-boarding and several times I’ve been flat-out floored at the mind-set of some organizations out there.  Weak companies have blinders on and will hire for expertise only, while the strongest start with culture fit and trust that they will be rewarded in the long run if they occasionally need to hire someone less skilled who has matching intangibles.   The short run may sometimes be a little bumpier, but if you on board and train properly that culture fit hire will be more loyal, stay longer and bring others with them.   The ‘expert’ who job hops will save you for 6 months, but create the same hole within a year or two and you gain nothing in the long run.

Work / Life Balance.

Challenging to manage, especially in a growing company or high demand industry.   You can’t run at a 15 out of 10 level for a sustained period of time, so finding ways to deal with this are key.  The best cultures are finding creative ways to enforce and embrace this idea of give and take.   Some companies were even born out of the desire to find more balance.   Weaker cultures ignore overworked employees with an arrogance that assumes ‘they should be happy to have the work’ or they are filled with entitled near part-timers who clock watch and take a handful of ‘breaks’ every day.


The great equalizer.  Right?  Great paying companies must have an awesome culture and everyone is probably happy!   Wrong.  There is no hard/fast rule here, but in general ‘he who pays the most…” generally has to for some reason.   Strong cultures are very evident, especially to interviewees and it is a luxury to be partnered with these types of clients, because unless the money difference is astronomical we are going to make the placement.  Don’t be tricked into overpaying and if you do pay a premium, make it for a  leadership role.   When it comes to staff level and manager level roles, the great companies are usually in the 80-ish percentile.  If you are the type of person who wants the biggest paycheck no matter what – these companies probably won’t want you.

Marketing / Website / Social Media.

Everyone knows of a few rebel companies who refuse to submit to marketing, internet presence and Social Media.  It’s worn as a badge of ‘old school’ honor.   The other side of the coin is the all flash/no substance firm.  I think the most successful companies out there are allowing their vision to come through using modern channels as a way to enhance, not define their values.  Outright ignoring it alienates an entire generation of new employees and will impact your ability to succession plan over the next 2-5 years.

What does all of this mean?  There are infinite ways to structure a culture and the first step is diagnosing what you have.  My advice to clients who wonder if they have a solid culture is to challenge your managers/directors and staff level employees to define the company culture and, in that, what are the most important things to them.   For job seekers, ask your interviewers about culture and what makes the company unique.   It’s not the product or the ‘process’ – these can be duplicated.   Ultimately for both the individual and the company, no matter what the answer, you must be asking the question – what is important to me culturally?   Answer this question before you write up that job description or accept that offer – it’s far more critical to making a successful, long term hire (or career move) and keeping them.


One thought on “Culturally Speaking…

  1. It’s interesting that great orgs pay runs around the 80th percentile. Maybe the ones at the 90th have other drawbacks and need to pay more to get talent.

    In general, when looking for vendors + contractors, usually the right choice is in the middle price range. Expensive ones are worth it only if you are sure they can hit the ground running doing what you need done. People get excited about cheap contractors in low-wage regions. I’m sure there are some good ones who are cheap b/c they’re just getting started. In general, though, if someone wants to design electronics for $8/hr, there a reason they’re so cheap.

    I also believe if you find someone really good, pay them over the going rate for that job function AFTER you’ve determined they’re good at what you need done.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s