Hiring the Right People: A Strategic Approach

By Mark Mallinger, Ph.D., Graziadio School of Business, Pepperdine University | Posted: August 16, 2017

The process used for the selection of key positions is likely to impact the organization’s goals and objectives. The costs associated with an ineffective process not only result in increased expenses, but can also damage company culture. The loss of members who don’t fit consume time and money in terms of search, training, development, and disruption to the system.  In addition, an inappropriate set of hires can lead the organization in a direction different than that which it had intended.

Consider your process—you probably gather a set of applications/resumes, find a way to sort out candidates, narrow the pool to 3-5 individuals, invite them for interviews, and then select the person who best meets the criteria.  Although this approach appears to be the standard method, there is no guarantee of success. A question to reflect—“are you pleased with the process you are using?”   The purpose of this article is to propose a more sophisticated method for assessing the extent to which candidates are right for the company from a cultural perspective.

My guess is that during the selection process, at least one-member of the decision team asks whether a job candidate is a cultural fit for the organization. The effectiveness of this approach depends on whether the decision maker(s) has a clear sense of their own company culture along with being able to decipher the style of the candidate. In most cases the decision is based on gut feel rather than an objective measure.

An alternative is to start with a framework that objectively assesses organizational culture to determine the key ingredients of the culture that lead to success (or identify what’s lacking in the culture that keeps the organization from being successful).  Once clarity is reached regarding the key cultural components either present or desired the first piece of the selection puzzle is in place. The next step requires the design of a survey an applicant would complete that mirrors the organization’s most significant cultural components. Using this model can provide a more advanced means of selection.

The initial step is to determine the organization’s culture. The 7-dimensions of the Integrated Cultural Framework (ICF) offers a useful model to measure corporate culture (See endnote citation).  The 35-item ICF survey is designed to assess the following set of cultural components:

Ability to Influence: The extent to which organization members have an opportunity to influence decisions

Comfort with Ambiguity: The extent to which the members of the organization for comfortable with uncertainty and risk taking

Achievement Orientation: The extent to which members are assertive, goal directed and achievement oriented.

Individualism vs. Collectivism: The extent to which individual versus group loyalty exists

Egalitarianism: The extent to which equal opportunity exists for advancement

Time Orientation: The extent to which the organization’s goals/mission is focused on values from the past, present or future.

Space Orientation: The extent to which physical layout of the organization is public, private or a mix of both.

It is important to recognize that “right/wrong, good/bad” are not appropriate in assessing culture.  The focus should be what is.  That is, there isn’t a one-best culture. Each organization, based on its goals, mission and vision, is likely to identify a culture unique to its objectives.  Therefore, the results of the ICF survey provides a “picture” of the organization’s culture from the perspective of the members who complete the questionnaire.  To absorb a deeper understanding, however, it is necessary to interview a cross-section of the respondents.  Doing so allows a more substantive recognition of the underlying elements of the 7-dimensions.

It is likely that 3-5 of the ICF dimensions will “jump out” as most significant in terms of describing critical aspects of the culture.  Using these elements the organization can prepare a short questionnaire to be given to job candidates.  The purpose of the questionnaire is to measure the extent to which the candidate fits the critical elements identified in the ICF analysis. For example, if Ability of Influence is identified as an important part of the culture, then in the job candidate survey and interview the focus would be on evaluating the extent to which the candidate is comfortable and capable of taking on a decision making role. It is recommended, however, that the candidate survey be validated by current organization members before using it with prospective employees. That is, asking the organization’s strong performers to complete the job candidate survey will allow the organization to revise the measure where needed before including it in the selection process.

The advantage of incorporating a more rigorous method of selection, particularly one that focuses on organizational culture, is that it will likely result in not only a more effective, less costly process, but it may offer an effective way of ensuring cultural sustainability.

Citation Endnote:
Mark Mallinger, “Recognizing Organizational Culture in Managing Change,” Graziadio Business Review. 2009 (co-authors D. Goodwin & T. Ohara)

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