Strength lies in differences

A few months ago, a colleague of mine wrote an article about ‘culture fit’ and how so many organisations use this as an excuse to stand people down from a recruitment process. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve spoken to candidates who were told that they could do the job but were rejected because they weren’t a good fit to the organisational culture. They are, in effect being discounted because they are different.

I’ve reflected on this a lot recently. What must the candidate be thinking and feeling, particularly if it’s happened to them more than once? Why do hiring managers keep doing this? Surely it should be clear that recruiting people who just fit in creates homogony, encourages the same views and mindset, and will lull you into a false sense of security. If everyone in an organisation thinks the same, then people will reinforce each other’s views, even when they might be wrong. You won’t have different perspectives or different thinking, which will result in stifling creativity and innovation.

Reading his article got me thinking that if asking people to fit in is a negative approach, what should we be doing instead?

I totally buy into moving the conversation from culture fit to culture add, but how do you decide through an interview process whether someone will positively impact your organisational culture? The risk of hiring someone who causes a negative impact can be devastating and can take years to correct.

For me, we have to start with values. I have seen that some organisations do not focus enough on candidates’ values during the recruitment process. We should expect candidates to demonstrate how they are aligned to the values of the organisation and not just sell their technical experience. The recruitment industry can also play its part by advising candidates to prepare a supporting statement that is not just a tick-box exercise based on a person specification. A candidate’s CV should tell you if they have the required skills and experience to be considered for a post, so preparing a supporting statement that is an extended version of their CV seems pointless.

As a recruitment consultant, I’d like to see the supporting statement offering something else, something beyond what I can see in a CV. Instead, I want to understand the applicant’s values and learn about their lived experiences, and how this has defined their value set. An excellent supporting statement should be emotive and explain why the applicant is motivated and inspired to work for a particular organisation.

A values-based recruitment process will ensure a positive work environment, better staff morale, increased employee engagement and productivity, as well as reducing staff turnover. Applicants talking about values in their supporting statements is just one aspect of the discussion, however. Organisations, who have invested so much time, effort, and no doubt cost in articulating their values should have them as the foundation of their advertisements, and highlight them in their microsites and any further reading. It shows you are serious about building a workforce around what is truly important to you.

Pre-employment psychometric testing can support claims on values and behaviours, for example value-based interview techniques such as roleplaying and focused assessment centres can also help you get to know your applicants better, and asking candidates for the reasoning behind their responses can allow you to see their thought processes, as well as whether or not their unique values align with your organisations.

So, the next time you’re looking to hire into a critical leadership position, start with understanding your candidates’ personal values and motivations. What can they offer beyond on-paper experience and skills? Look not for how candidates might fit in with your existing culture; instead, look for how they’ll positively impact and add to it.

Ben Parsonage is an executive search consultant in the local government practice at Green Park

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