Here’s an interesting question to consider: When exactly is company culture formed? A lot of companies engage in “team-building” exercises that are designed to rather awkwardly force culture onto the employees—which sometimes ends up being effective and sometimes doesn’t. Other companies operate under the assumption that every decision that is made ultimately shapes the corporate culture, which I think is right on the money.
I would say, though, that one of the most important culture-shaping areas in the life cycle of any business is the hiring process. It is during recruitment that you can enlist new employees who get your company culture, who can help cultivate and even improve it. It is also during the hiring process that, if you’re not careful, you can bring in new folks who don’t fit with the company culture at all—and who can potentially do real damage to it, changing it in ways you don’t want to see it changed.
Saying that a job applicant is a bad fit for your company is not the same as saying that he or she is simply a bad employee. Most of the time, just the opposite is true. Hiring managers often see an applicant who possesses a few traits that they desperately need—and they become so smitten with the idea of that candidate that they are blind to some cultural shortcomings.
You know what I’m talking about. If you’re an employer, you’ve surely had interactions with the seasoned sales representative who always outperforms his peers—but is also dishonest, doesn’t cooperate with others, and burns every bridge he crosses. You may have encountered the technician or the Web developer who has all the technical skills you require, and does excellent work, but also refuses to take direction or fails to interact well with customers.
Can some of these bad behaviors be corrected? Sometimes they can and sometimes they can’t—but it will absolutely never happen overnight, or before the culture of your company is, to some extent, corroded.
To put this another way: Some things can be taught. You may come across a job applicant who lacks one or two hard skills that you really need, and that’s certainly a red flag—but it’s not insurmountable. Chances are, you are either an expert in your field or else you have hired experts in your field. (If not, how are you still in business?) You can teach hard skills, and often times it is worth the time investment to do so.
Attitudes cannot be taught. Values cannot be taught. Culture is not necessarily something that a new employee is going to develop through sheer osmosis; in fact, it is more likely that the newcomer will have a poisonous effect on the other members of your organization.
That’s why it’s important to hire for culture. It’s not just your valuable time that is at stake, but the very cultural health of your business.