Tag Archives: Culture

Using Culture to Drive Policy Decisions

Decision making isn’t always a process of identifying and communicating facts. There’s often an underlying foundation of history, preferences, and other elements that add a layer to the decision making process. Recently I talked about how even something as seemingly simple as a policy decision can be affected by the organization’s culture.

culture policy decisionThe corporate culture influences the determination from the initial consideration through to the final steps of implementation. Over at the Brandon Hall Group blog, we'll look at some of those underlying factors and how you can leverage them to make policy decisions stick.

Check out Culture Drives Policy Implementation at Human Resources Today to learn more

Articulate Your Culture

I talk about corporate culture often. Very often, in fact. You can tell what people value by what they talk about most often, so it’s no surprise that I believe a solid culture is one of the key ways to differentiate your organization.

But there’s a problem with that. See, you have to know what it means when you talk about this “culture” thing. If a new hire comes in, how do you explain it to them? If someone is not fitting the culture and needs to move on, how do you explain the invisible requirements they are not satisfying?


It’s time to take a few moments to articulate your culture. Define, in concrete terms, what it really looks like. Whether it’s through legends, core values, or something else. I was recently hiring for an opening, and I wanted to put together my “service philosophy,” but it’s also a good peek at what the culture is like and what we expect from our people. Here are a few of those key pieces:

  • Find ways to say “yes” as often as possible
  • No job is too small or insignificant
  • The better we treat our staff, the better they treat our customers
  • Talk about the “why” of what you do as often as the “what”
  • Everyone should know what winning looks like

Those are just a few of the concepts, but it gives you an idea of what I mean. If more people took the time to explain these sorts of things, there would be fewer poor hires and thus fewer unhappy/disengaged staff.

Have you ever taken the time to articulate your culture in real terms? What sort of information did you share? What would your bullet points look like?

Driving Innovation with Event Planning

Event planning? Really? I thought HR was supposed to give up the “party planner” role in the move to strategic partner… Well, let’s hear what the indubitable Sue Meisinger has to say about that:

Open Communication Spurs Innovation

Meisinger then pointed to employee social events as an opportunity to tear down boundaries that many HR professionals seem to miss. She asked the audience to raise their hand if they resented the fact that their organization expected them to organize social events, such as holiday parties and corporate picnics. Dozens of hands shot up in the audience.

“Excuse me while I go on a rant here. You're looking at this from the wrong perspective, and you shouldn't resent this opportunity and instead embrace it,” she said. “You need to look at these employee events as strategic opportunities to open communication channels.”

In social settings, people talk and get to know each other, and HR's role should be to help encourage that interaction and promote the culture where people talk to people, she added.

“Is it more likely that someone from accounting will return a call or consider a suggestion from someone in publications that they barely know, or is it likely that they will listen and pay attention to someone whom they remember meeting and sharing a good time?” Meisinger asked. “HR's role is to ensure clarity and the organization's efforts to develop and maintain a culture that encourages and celebrates innovation.” Source: SHRM

Bringing it home

I am the events team lead at work. To be totally honest, I’m not very good at the details part of the event planning. It’s just not an area that I am strong in.

However, I do put effort into determining what events support the culture we want to develop and how to use the events as a way to link diverse groups of employees. There is no substitute for the conversations and camaraderie that develop as a result of the events we have for our staff.

Another element is seeing our senior leaders participating in these events alongside our staff. That opportunity to interact on a personal level increases the trust in our leadership.

So, say what you will, but I’m going to keep putting the effort into developing events that our staff enjoy, because that is one of the things that makes our culture what it is. What are your thoughts on the topic?

Researching Company Culture (Podcast Interview)

Less than a week ago we wrapped up the interviewing process for a new hire at our local office. After reviewing dozens of candidates, talking with half a dozen, and bringing a few back for another round, we settled on the one who we thought was the best fit for the position.

We work hard to provide a solid first round interview to verify skills/abilities and general fit. It’s very much a “standard” interview.

The second interview has a very different feel. We bring the person in, let them talk with their potential future coworkers, and leave them alone. Before the second round, I tell both parties (the peers and the candidate) that it’s their chance to interview their future teammate. I want both parties to be invested in the success of the interview, and I also want them to honestly ask themselves the question, “Would I really want to work with this person?”

Recently I had the opportunity to do a short podcast interview with Tim Muma of LocalJobNetwork. I talked a lot about asking good interview questions, how to research culture as a candidate, etc. I think there’s some good stuff in there, especially for the job seekers out there. If you know someone looking for work, feel free to share the link with them!

Click here to listen to the podcast


Maintaining Your Culture as You Grow

maintain culture growthAs you should know by now, I’m a firm believer in the power of a strong corporate culture. One of the sessions I looked forward to the most before I arrived at SHRM was the “Maintaining Your Culture As You Grow” session. I picked up some great ideas and wanted to share them here. If you are interested in more content like this, I have another post rattling around in my brain that I can write on the topic…

Some takeaways

  • Don’t let people tell you that you have to change everything as you scale up. Yes, you might have to make some changes, but they should be operationally, not at the core of what your company believes in. You might have to change processes or procedures that used to work flawlessly. Bottom line: what got you here won’t necessarily get you to where you want to be.
  • Springboarding off of that concept, there are times when it becomes necessary to remove long-time employees simply because they are unable to grow and scale with the organization. It’s painful. It’s unpleasant. But it has to be done or they’ll remain a weak link in the growth structure. The process for removing the person is simple (not easy!): respectfully acknowledge their significant contributions and then kindly and gently help them leave. That’s it.
  • Give hiring managers final say in all hiring decisions. Everyone on the interview team can vote, but when the hiring manager makes the call, everyone else needs to get on board with the decision immediately. No hemming, hawing, or “that’s not who I wanted.” Either give them your support or leave. Many companies rot from the inside out when too much finger-pointing becomes the common culture vs. organizational excellence.
  • Have your interview team members reach out to the new hire before their start date with encouraging comments and helpful tips. Many of us wait until day 1 to help them build those connections, but the sooner they start getting comfortable, the faster they will be productive employees.
  • One concept I’m not sure I really like, but I think it’s intriguing: only do performance evaluations on your highest performers. It’s a burdensome process otherwise, so make sure you get the most bang for your buck by only evaluating the best people. Make your strengths stronger instead of focusing on your weaknesses. [Again, not sure I like this, but worth discussing. My issue is that it’s a demotivator for employees who want to be great but don’t have enough coaching or communication to do well. This is going to further deepen those rifts until the potentially great B players walk out the door.]

I have other notes, but as I went through them I realized I already have started writing other blog posts about the specific bullet points. I have some good ideas here and hope to actually do a training session with some of our team to help them understand the implications for maintaining culture for the long haul.

What questions do you have surrounding culture or growth? What would you like me to cover in the future?

Company Merger Process (Dealing with Employees You Didn’t Hire)

It is difficult to describe the company merger process with regard to the effects on employees, but one that I want to touch on today is one that has been a consistent focus area for us in recent years. As a government contractor, if we win a contract, we take over all employees currently working on the contract and they join our workforce.

The issue comes when we start running into employee relations issues with the existing workforce. In other words, we wouldn’t have hired these people outright, but we had to as part of the contract turnover.

Company Merger ProcessDon’t get me wrong, we also earned ourselves some amazing new staff members who are professional to the core. We’re proud to have them aboard and wouldn’t trade them away.

But as for some of the others, we had to live with them. We had to put up with them. And it was tough. 

I’ve talked before about our tough standards of hiring for culture fit. We take this stuff seriously. So what do we do when we have to deal with employees we didn’t hire? How do the parts play out in this scenario? Read on for how I’ve seen the various pieces fall into place over time. It’s an interesting phenomenon and I’d love to hear some ideas from people on how they might have successfully integrated multiple workforce groups.

How do the new employees react in the company merger process?

Well, if time is any indication, they realize pretty quickly that they don’t fit into the new culture. They eventually become uncomfortable with the working arrangement and often resign. We use retention as a key metric for our HR operations, but in instances like those I am perfectly happy to let the person go. Yes, it’s a hassle, but we get to start the recruiting process to find a new person that fits our cultural norms and agrees with our core values and customer-focused mission.

For the ones who are a closer fit to our corporate culture, it’s a really fun time to watch the full transition. Some of the most meaningful compliments I’ve received as an HR professional came from this group of employees, including:

  • Wow, our last HR rep wouldn’t have even called me back about this issue.
  • Our last HR person didn’t do anything about this problem, but I know you can help.
  • It’s so great to be at a company that cares about its people.
  • You guys make it fun working here. I love coming to work every morning.

In those moments, I realize that it’s worth all the trouble in the world to make an impact for those select few who do stick with us for the long haul.

What about the originals (employed before the company merger process)?

This is the tough part. Hiring with a strict standard means that the majority of our staff are firmly committed to the success of the organization. Then virtually overnight we gather up a number of people in the company merger process who are more interested in looking for ways to avoid working than they are in actually serving our customers well. It’s a complete 180-degree shift, and for many current employees, it’s very difficult to handle.

We work hard to keep pouring the positivity and encouragement into the staff to keep them from losing focus. The majority of the time these contract changes are geography-based, so we don’t normally have “new” employees working physically close to “old” employees. That definitely helps to lessen the effects of bringing on the new people, though it could also theoretically flow the other way and allow our “old timers” to help influence the new people and teach them what matters.

We also learned the hard way that there’s a shortcut to this cultural indoctrination process.

The company merger process secret weapon

We’ve learned by trial and error that a key to success is embedding a solid leader in a management position with the new staff. That person needs to “bleed green,” as we often say. That doesn’t mean they give up their life for Pinnacle or that they are a brown-nosing loser. It just means they understand our mission and our customer very well and can help coach the other managers and staff on how we do things.

I’ve heard that USAA does something similar. Whenever they open a new office in the field, they don’t hire a brand new person to run the office. They send someone trained in the company’s history, values, and culture out to start the office. Then they grow it organically from there. It’s a brilliant concept, and I think one that is worth exploring if you do much of this type of growth. I talk more about this concept of culture change through mergers and acquisitions in the Rock Your Culture guide, if you’re interested in delving deeper.

Anyone else out there have a company merger process story where you picked up employees that you wouldn’t have hired in the first place? How did you handle the situation?

How to Know When Someone is Lying in an Interview

Lying in an interview? Say it ain’t so!

I wanted to share a short back-and-forth I had with a friend about how to know when someone is lying in an interview. I’ve shortened where I could to get to the point, but the lying discussion doesn’t happen until the end. I think the discussion is worth reading through nonetheless. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the process as well!

lying in an interview

Does recruiting for culture fit really work?

I’ve been working to recruit for culture fit, and I’ve been thinking… Where is the culture that the bad attitudes belong?

I think there's a place for everyone, and the “bad attitude” is a misalignment in many cases. Your attitude is awesome when it comes to picking up the phone, serving clients/customers/candidates, etc. If someone tried to turn you into a benefits analyst you'd have a terrible disposition.

Not sure if that's culture-specific or industry/job specific. We hire for people who fit our core values. Some of them are a little more “open and honest” than others, and what they say is often construed as rude or condescending. But that's who they are and why we hired them in the first place.

Shoving me into a job that requires filing and organization will turn me into a monster. Letting me play all day with different areas of HR makes me just about the happiest person in the building.

Your turn.

Beyond culture to personal job fit

good spin. but don’t some people have JUST a bad attitude? How can we as HR rockstars help people identify what they excel at that makes them happy and grow in that area so they can work in that area??

A permanent case of attitude issues? Yeah, they are the perpetually underemployed/unemployed, if I had to guess.

Part of the problem is bringing people on to do a job when it is not really their passion. At some point the pain of doing something like that will overwhelm them and they leave to find another job. I think that's why many people are perpetually changing jobs every 1-2 years. They are looking for a J-O-B to solve their problems, when they really haven't taken the time to determine what they truly love and want to do. Just because it pays the bills doesn't make it a good career choice long term. This describes the majority of people in a nutshell:

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
Theodore Roosevelt

Do what's expected. Do what's comfortable. Do what you know. Do what your parents did.

All are recipes for failure.

When people take charge, look inward at what they love, and then pursue jobs and companies that align with those values and interests, the world of HR becomes much simpler.

What if the people are lying in an interview?

I feel like the answers could still be faked- if you’re interviewing me and I know what your culture is and how important it is in making a hiring decision I pretty much know what kind of answer you’re digging for.

So if someone does that much research and fakes it well enough to get in, it will eventually show somewhere that they were being false in the interview. We can't screen for 100% fit but it still weeds out the 90% I would say.

You're in a tough spot, but it's also an amazing opportunity if you can get your current organization to truly focus on their culture.

Be sure they understand that leveraging culture isn't confined to recruiting. The vendor management guidelines video I did was a very real example of how we use culture externally to help us achieve our goals. Training. Development. Promotion. Termination. Every area is another opportunity to reinforce the core values and culture they want to enforce. Bringing them in on the front end is the beginning of a long and tough, yet very rewarding, process.

How do you determine if someone is lying in an interview?