Corporate Culture 101 - the CVforlife way By Rob Ridout

Corporate Culture module two - coaching notes

Being scrutinized under the microscope whilst going through an interview process is never fun for anybody. But going through an interview process is not a one ended affair but rather a two way street. Whilst under scrutiny one of the facets that many interviewees forget is to conduct their own interviewing exercise to ensure that the role is right for them as much as it is for the prospective employee. Indeed many times I think that the interviewing party actually forgets that there are two parties involved in the interviewing process.

One of the key elements that a candidate must screen prospective new employers for is corporate culture. Microsoft thinks it’s important otherwise focusing 50% of their hiring decision on corporate culture.

Understanding and developing a more assertive approach in determining your interviewers corporate culture throughout the interview process is by far the most important element in your arsenal of tools when attacking a new opportunity. The central concept however, of being an active opponent in the interview process, is of the utmost importance.

When considering your corporate culture questioning strategy the three elements to consider are:

· Who is interviewing you and how does that person fit into the organisation.

· What is the content of the interview and what is the general overall attitude of the interviewer towards you during the interview.

· When does the person to person interviewing happen in the recruitment process and in what format.

The application of what you learn during the interview process will assist you to make a decisive and intentional decision regards the potential acceptance or non-acceptance of an offer.

More importantly—increase the chance of successfully making the right decision with regards to corporate culture fit.

“Corporate culture rejection” has become the buzz word with industrial psychologists today. Business leaders have started to concentrate their efforts on perfecting their hiring practices to ensure the sustainability of their new appointees. Significant, but not always mentioned, is that these hiring practices can be for growth or rationalisation within the organisation.

Before embarking on an expedition to formalise your strategy on corporate culture identification, one must understand what drives corporate culture and the key elements that determine the culture of a company. It’s also important to compare and study various researcher viewpoints when considering what the impact of corporate culture has on your interview process. Research into corporate culture and the impact it has on interview questions is actually a very poorly researched topic.

Let us firstly examine some theories that exist in the marketplace with regards to the assessment of corporate culture. One of the more popular mechanisms employed for client assessment, to define, articulate and match culture, is the use of the five P’s to assess culture.

ü Power

Is the power at the top of the organisation and are decisions made by a group or a single person at this level? Or is power delegated and requires a consensus before decisions are made. One can also ask as regards to which big decisions were made, how exactly those decisions were made and what ownership have leaders taken for bad decisions.

ü Push

How much “push back” can an organisation tolerate and how much it expects? How long will the organisation allow the incumbent to gain ground by conceding and complying to his/her needs? Some organisations have significant push back and have a culture where the new executive cannot forcefully defend his/her point.

ü Pace

How quickly does an organisation make decisions, but also what are the actions of the respected leaders of the organisation. Pace also speaks to work ethic and what is considered a hard-working individual by the organisation i.e. working weekends etc. Miss-match will lead to culture rejection.

ü Play

The way that an organisation plays together is a defining component. As most people spend a large portion of time at work with co-workers, the “play” factor becomes very relevant.

ü Principles

The willingness to compromises values in order to achieve a high-valued goal.

In many cases the type of question that one uses to litmus test the above five “P”s are as important as the actual definitions. The following examples of questions should be used when facing an interview:

Ø What words would you use to describe your organisation?

Ø What are you most proud of in the organisation?

Ø What is the purpose of the organisation?

Ø Why is the work you do important repetitive?

Ø What is your contribution to society?

Ø What special attribute does your leader possess that has influenced the character of the organisation?

Ø What ideals drove to the founding of the organisation?

Ø What single value is fundamental to this organisation since founding?

Ø Why is this company uniqueness from competitors?

Ø Describe the personality of the organisation?

Ø To effectively achieve your strategy what principles should you focus on?

Ø Describe the working environment that enables you to work at your best.

Ø What stops you from performing at your best.

Another point of view by a top researcher, focuses on the hiring manager evaluating candidates based on cultural fit, rather than qualifications. This move toward culture screening is seen to be very topical at the moment, especially with many business leaders looking for top staff who will potentially “fit” their organisation. Using “fit” as selection has seen to be directly related to attrition within a company. Interviewing for cultural “fit” can include factors such as similar backgrounds, interests, self presentation and similar qualifications. Hiring managers actually hire according to choosing criteria they would use when selecting friends or romantic partners.

Top questions include favourite websites, books and movies. Most evaluators interviewed, were found to select candidates who have a similar educational background as themselves, thereby making it easier for the two incumbents to relate life stories in the interview.

The fact is that people want to work with other people who are like themselves.

Employees want a sense of belonging since the office eventually becomes a second home.

Researchers do however agree that the following traits are true to corporate culture across all organisations;

Ø You cannot train corporate culture

Ø Culture is historically determined

Ø Culture is socially founded and

Ø Difficult to change

Ø The outsider can describe corporate culture more effectively than the employee

Ø Socialisation in corporate culture is continuous

Ø Members are not aware of its existence

Employees struggle to describe their companies’ personality. It’s the outsider, who more often than not, can better describe the social putty that holds the organisation together.

When conversing about this topic one needs to understand that there is a difference between the formal and informal organization. Both are inseparable.

Formal organization functions according to rules, politics and procedures. The informal includes differing levels of employees and includes relationships and human interactions that are not officially prescribed and is also dynamic by nature.

Another factor that is important, is understanding corporate culture at the “group” level.

New employees entering a group will need to be socialized as in any other social entity. Even if the individuals have strong individual presumptions the group will be weak if the organisations’ culture is weak.

Organisational socialisation is a process whereby new members learn the basic rules of the organisation to ensure the integrity of the organisation. Socialisation in an organisation is continuous. The members involved in the act of socialisation are also not aware of its existence.

As a candidate moving through an interview process one can judge how the organisation uses the hiring process to ensure good corporate culture fit against the regular technical fit. Some good questions or considerations to ask the recruiter or hiring manager, if you are in the interview process, includes:

Ø Do the recruitment materials reflect the core values of the organisation?

Ø Do recruitment practices emulate the core values before and afterwards?

Ø Does the recruiter talk about the companies’ core values whilst in the interviewing process?

Ø Is the organisations’ work meaningful to employees?

Ø Are employees’ values in harmony with the values of the organisation?

Ø How hard will it be for a new employee to perform naturally, in ways that are consistent, with how things are done here?

One of the recent most forward thinking examples of good corporate culture interviewing strategy includes Amazons "Bar Raisers". An invention by its founder Jeff Bezos.

Bezos believes that this invention weeds out cultural misfits. Several hundred individuals are allocated as “bar raisers” across the organisation. They are expected to assess at least ten candidates per week. The bar raisers have to write an evaluation. This process includes six to seven employees for at least two hours.

Bar raisers are often placed in different parts of the company when interviewing, so that they can pose unusual questions to applicants. Amazon will typically conduct 75,000 interviews to hire 30,000 employees.

To Amazon a successful recruitment process means new employees are able to bring immediate impact to the companys’ bottom line.

Coming back to your interviewing process.

As you move through the interviewing route, small hints should prompt you to further investigate your potential hirers’ culture.

Ø What does your initial impression of the business tell you about the working business environment?

Ø Are you given a chance to engage with workers during your interviewing process and what conclusion can you draw from your interactions?

Ø Does the working area have places where staff can relax and do they meet in differing areas of the building?

Ø Does the interviewer care about your impression as a candidate of the company, even if you are not successful?

Ø Does the hiring manager represent the companies’ brand?

Ø Does the interviewing process include any visual or media?

There is a distinctive lack of research into the cultural process of interviewing decision-making and how interviewers analyse, evaluate, compare and select new hires.

There remains a very strong case for corporate culture interviews taking priority over skill-based interviews. Research into what factors evaluators (interviewers) use when screening using corporate culture interviewing styles, include leisure pursuits, past experiences and self-presentation styles.

Studies have found that often hirers’ subjective view carry more weight than what is said on the actual resume. These interpersonal dimensions require more explanation, if we are to understand how the candidate is affected.

Studies show that similarity is one of the most powerful interpersonal components used in the corporate culture-fit interview.

The emotional glue that two parties endeavour to create when first meeting is of vital importance. The belief that one is similar to oneself is of high importance. This is called perceived similarity.

Most notable is Neckerman and Kirschenmanns, 1991 study of urban employers has made a major rethink in hiring activities based on culture.

It is worth pointing out that most studies conducted have been on low income earners, rather than the elite or prestigious job tracks. Cultural similarities in this group are more varied. Cultural compatibility becomes more prominent. When interviewers were asked why they chose to base their interview question on cultural similarity, cultural interviewers would reply that they spent long hours in the office with fellow workers and therefore wanted to make work more enjoyable.

Many evaluators also used extracurricular activities to screen candidates out of their shortlist. Intellectual ability and perceived ability also proved to be a point of departure for many screeners. Interviewers will also often motivate the recruitment process by way of screening candidates who were like themselves, where the interviewer represented the ideal company personality. Using self as proxy was also more common in first and second round interviews. Chemistry also played an important part in screening candidates and often the interviewer will use this chemistry check to screen out candidates.

The initial first few minutes of the interview are especially important as both parties try to find a match or chemistry between common interests. Interestingly enough, many firms who should prioritise technical interviewing such as consulting firms, posed non-related interpersonal questions as screening criteria. There has, however, been a clear indication that the increase of technical questions in the interviewing process has reduced the subjectivity of the process dramatically. Often interviewers will ascertain a base line fit and then go onto the fit factor as the dominant interview topic.

Interviewers also often use their own life experiences to grade their candidates in the interview scenario. There is proof that interviewers will certainly guide their final decision based on self-experience.

Interviewers therefore used their own merit scale to gain a better understanding of their candidates’ worthiness, almost to say that if they were successful in their company, then the candidate would be too. This was also related to their experience. Interviewers’ experiences not only determined the criteria of interview questions, but also the measurement used.

Interviewers will often positively evaluate candidates based on sharing similar responses to questions. You are basically hiring yourself. People are also drawn to others who have shared attitudes and identities as themselves. The interviewer would indeed gravitate towards the person who validates them the most. Studies have also shown that pre-screened candidates who have the same criteria for being selected, were then examined on the basis of cultural diversity rather than technical ability, due to their similarity.

The bottom line is that you need to become a sleuth in identifying the hiring companies’ corporate culture trends and defining what the corporate culture is of the organisation, before making that final career decision. For the candidate who ventures out into the unknown world of corporate culture interviews, there remains a black hole when asking what to expect from the interviewer. With the advancement of tech in support of making these critical decisions for companies, such as facial recognition and complicated screen software packages, the science of understanding what corporate culture has on the interviewer seems further from being answered. That “gut feel” that interviewers and recruiters feel when interviewing for “fit” now becomes the holy grail of successful recruitment. Can studying and understanding corporate culture assist both parties to understand the marriage?

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