Hiring to Strengthen Company Culture

You don't just hire people to do a job, you hire them to strengthen your culture.

Hiring great talent these days is a tricky task. Interviewees are on their best behavior, equipped with their arsenal of stock phraseology, canned responses and even contrived body language. By the end of most interviews, the chance of actually knowing the true individual underneath all the strategic veneer is slim.

The challenge here is when you don't know who they truly are, you’ll run the risk of installing them into a culture only to weaken a team and all but guarantee short-term tenure after a great deal of on-boarding expense. This makes the interview process crucial to get the right person who will fit into and even improve the culture you’ve worked hard to build.

 

DON’T LOOK AT THE CANDIDATE AS A MEANS TO YOUR END

For starters, there is one major opportunity you have in the interviewing process that few practice; don’t look at the candidate as a means to your end. That will be flushed out naturally in the process. Analyze whether or not you and your company are a means to their end. If you can facilitate a position that meets a person’s career vision because you took the time to find out what their goals are, it shows you care, it shows you are smart, and it creates a space for the candidate to “get real” with you about their life. It’s a selfless paradigm to look at hires from the perspective of, “If I serve them and ensure the hire is good for their life, I can’t lose.” This is not to say that they run the interview, you do. The difference is that you’re in control from a perspective that’s virtually failsafe as you get to know people at a whole different level by removing the need for façades.

 

YOU ARE HIRING FOR MORE THAN JUST YOUR COMPANY

Next is to realize that you are hiring people on behalf of your employees – you know, the ones that may get stuck with your bad hire. Take close inventory to see if the candidate will work well with their direct reports and direct subordinates. Once you think there is a good fit, let their future co-workers interview them as well. At my companies, each candidate is interviewed by at least three people, but often by more and multiple times. Hires will either enhance or hurt your corporate culture based not just on their ability, but how well they will work with others in their department, the extra effort can save a lot of grief.

For example, in the earlier years of my marketing agency, we were “severely interview challenged.” We were growing so quickly, we hired just about anyone who could fog a mirror without a deep dig into reality. We didn’t want to burden others with more work, so we hired in a vacuum. The result? One year later we let several “new hires” go, and by that time it was too late. Our culture was tainted. It took many months and a serious change in hiring disciplines to build it back into a healthy state.

The interview process isn't supposed to be a walk in the park, and if it is to be, make sure it’s Central Park, New Year’s Eve at 2 a.m. – make it a gauntlet. After you’re clear about their vision and you believe the company can meet their goals, refrain from going into selling them on the company first, no matter how good the prospect. Why waste time and energy enlightening a candidate before you’re clear whether or not they fit the job? Say nothing about the company except a brief overview and move toward allowing them to sell you on why you should hire them.

 

KEY INTERVIEW PRACTICES

Here are a few key practices to make sure the culture is enhanced with every hire:

  1. For starters, ask tough questions, rapid fire. Turn up the heat by asking them how they would handle specific situations as it relates to their job.
     
  2. Throw in a curve ball question: “What angers you in the workplace?”; “What do you need from us to become successful and why?”; “What’s your favorite movie and why?”. Not that their favorite movie has squat to do with ability, but it has everything to do with how they will handle surprise conversations – a normal part of any job.
     
  3. Find out their vision in life. Again, not relevant to skill, but very relevant to motivation, passion, focus, planning-skills and more.
     
  4. Add in lots of “What would you do if…?” questions, followed by “Why?”. The “why” will tell you how they think and reason… let silence reign for a moment, see how they fill the space.
     
  5. Plan to have someone come in during the interview with a with a few surprise pre-planned questions. This allows you to see how they interact with a stranger as it relates to the job and how they handle a sudden business situation.
     
  6. If they’re a contender, introduce them to two or more people in the office. Check first impressions and get feedback from the others. Always prepare the people in your company in advance with questions to ask.
     
  7. As you narrow the field, bring candidates in to be interviewed by a group; again, turn up the heat knowing that you are doing the candidate a service by being tough. We have found the more people in the room, the better the result.

 

WHAT TO SHARE WITH YOUR HIRE

When it comes time to share about the company as it relates to their job, share the weaknesses of the company as well as the strengths and ask the candidate how they feel about the weaknesses. Every company has weaknesses. Get them thinking with their ideas and get input to see how they think and feel about what’s “real” in the company. Share a bit about yourself. Your wins, losses, etc. Show a little vulnerability so you can see how they handle an authentic conversation. The more real you get, the quicker you’ll discover whether there’s a human in front of you… or a robot.

 

DO THE STANDARD STUFF

I know it’s assumed, but check the candidate’s references, especially for sales positions. If they’re in the running and you check the three standard references, ask for three more just to see how they respond and check them if you think it’s necessary. Also, don’t let a candidate use personal references if they’ve been in the business world a while. It’s a red flag if all they have are personal references or friends they bribe for a few kind but unqualified words.

 

GIVE THE CANDIDATE HOMEWORK

Generally, you’ll know enough after the first interview to decide whether to continue the process. If you believe they are in the running, give them a decent volume of homework to do, such as reading an article or case study and giving feedback, taking the StrengthFinders test, or other relevant tasks, and give them a specific completion time so you can see if they deliver on time and how well they perform. If you decide to proceed, put them to task at the next meeting so they’ll have to perform at some level, and make the bar high. For example, when we hire for sales positions, it’s S.O.P. to have the candidate come in and do a comprehensive presentation to multiple players in the agency so we can see how they prepare, sell, relate, emote, present and close. We give them highly detailed criteria, and we learn a lot about how passionate they are about the job. We also learn how well equipped they are while under a bit of pressure.

You would think that these aggressive tactics might offend or annoy, and they might. But the goal of the interview process is to create a lab environment that is equivalent to the job itself, and then some. It’s only then you’ll be able to see the realities of what is to come. More work on the front end will save everyone’s “tail end.”

 

THE RESULTS

Over the years we’ve received numerous praises on how we interview; we bring an authenticity and a concern to the candidates that they’ve rarely experienced while interviewing in corporate America. We know that if we make a bad hire, we have done a tremendous disservice to someone who could have missed a great opportunity because of our complacent hiring practices. Because of this we’re willing to make the interview challenging for the good of something greater. It’s not about hiring. It’s about stewarding over someone’s life in a way that ensures their success from day one, and in turn becomes a great addition to the culture of the company. If the interview process doesn't go well for the candidate, we always make sure the candidate is valued, respected and even referred to another firm if we see a fit.


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Dean is Principal and Chief Creative Officer at Breviti – an award winning business branding agency in Laguna Niguel, CA, (breviti.com) and is a partner at VeracityColab, a video marketing agency in Aliso Viejo, CA. (veracitycolab.com) He is also an author on the topics of personal and business branding and speaks at companies and event venues to help improve individual and corporate performance. You can learn more at deandelsesto.com.