August 10th, 2010
Fit. Company culture. Core values. Critical or hullabaloo? The answer has been proven a dozen ways to Sunday yet it’s still a question, and every company must answer it, one way or another, for themselves. And, more importantly, live with the consequences.
I’m all for strategies that hit directly on the bottom line. Though some may call it “soft science,” I’ve seen it directly, many times over, the right fit, company culture, ensuring your team understands and is in step with your organization’s core values, does in fact, have a very direct impact on the bottom line.
No one can argue the costs associated with hiring…from advertising to interviewing to onboarding and training, until you have a fully productive, self-sufficient, contributing employee on the team. So what if you got it wrong? What if it’s a bad apple and upsets the apple cart, or spoils the whole barrel? Most companies, once they hire, try very hard, sometimes too hard (and I don’t mean that facetiously nor maliciously) to make it work, because of those investments already mentioned in the whole interview and onboarding process. However, how many companies have looked at the benefits to the bottom line of cutting their losses earlier in that process? How many have looked at the costs of not doing so?
We all know, when we make a great hire, everyone can feel it. Things go smoothly, everyone is on board, the person fits in, they “get it” and it all gels and comes together. There’s excitement on the team and camaraderie develops early. The team is inspired and often a new hire spurs this on and helps create even better results.
How about the opposite? Unfortunately most of us have experienced that too, however, very infrequently do we learn the lesson to not repeat the same mistakes and cut our losses early, or better yet, change the way we hire…even to the point of having the candidate interview the organization as much as the other way around. The costs of not doing so are tremendous, particularly when faith is lost in management, or the existing team feels there has been a shift in core values or hiring practices and they begin to “leave” the organization. Some physically leave and go elsewhere right away, others leave mentally, check out, don’t contribute as before, and eventually leave. These are huge costs! Both directly in salary and benefits, but even more so in momentum and customer service.
So I had to chuckle recently when talking with a colleague who told me a story about a little hole in the wall local breakfast joint (really a gas station with a “diner-esque” eating area inside, you know the type), called The Station. She had submitted an application with a high end company for a job. She received a call and was asked to meet a couple people for breakfast at The Station. Hmmm, this began a whole series of questions. First, is this an interview? Am I being considered for the job? Answer, something along the lines of, “we don’t know yet, that’s what we’re trying to determine. Let’s meet at The Station and see if we can work together.”
“The Station…” Long pause, scratching head, thinking hard (relatively new to the area, there are a million restaurants, The Station is not coming to mind. Don’t want to sound like an idiot…). “Yeah, The Station, that would be great. Where exactly is that again?”
“You know, right on Main Street.”
“Really?” Hmm scratching head again, ok The Station, The Station, The Station…Main Street…surely I’ve been by The Station. WHY is this not coming to mind?
“Next to the hardware/farm store.”
“Oh, The Station! As in the gas station/hardware store in the old part of town. They serve food there?” Oh geez, what kind of place is this? Seriously, I don’t even know if they want to interview me, and I’m to meet for breakfast at 7:00 am at The Station of all places. But the company really sounded good and everyone raves about them, but The Station?
“Yes, that’s the place. They have a great breakfast. How about Wednesday, at 7:00….”
“Sure, I’d be happy to.” Well, here goes nothing. Did I really just say that? Why am I doing this? Why did I say yes? What am I doing at The Station? I’ll probably catch something or get food poisoning. Who goes to The Station, much less at 7:00 am! And is this an interview or not?
Phone rings, I hear all about it, and my colleague thinks she needs her head examined. I tell her I love it and this might be one of the best things that ever happened to her. Fast forward, what an amazing experience, fantastic company, good pay, great benefits, culture is a big deal, best job she ever had…it doesn’t even feel like a job. She can’t wait to go to work in the morning, loves her company, what she does, and all the people she works with. They exceed their numbers every quarter, yes even in this economy. Everyone is motivated and dedicated. They have tremendous customer service, quality products, and treat their employees extremely well.
My friends, it all goes hand in hand. Ensuring you have the right fit is among your most critical lessons learned and core values. Many books have been published on the subject, speakers the world over, and still we struggle to believe it and take these lessons to heart, from both sides. Amazing analogies have been utilized, for example, Good to Great talks not only about having the right people on the bus, but ensuring they’re in the right seats on the bus; two very different things. Jim Collins directly expresses first who, then what; a remarkable position. There is no greater power than having a team that works extremely well together. Why is this a surprise to some? Is this not true of every human relationship? Some people think the workplace should be different, it’s business, put personal aside…that only goes so far and investing in fit can be your greatest asset. Conversely, ignoring it can be your downfall.
Anthony Tjan published a recent article in the Harvard Business Review entitled Four Lessons on Culture and Customer Service from Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh. In this article Hsieh spoke directly of ensuring he didn’t repeat a mistake from his past by not focusing on corporate culture until it was too late. He tackled this right away at Zappos, building it into the core values, and working fit directly from the beginning. Zappos after all is the company that offers to pay people a $2000 bonus after their first week to quit. They want to be really sure the people who are there want to be there and are committed. He stresses a commitment to core values, and “living into” them from the top down. But ultimately, Hsieh expresses, “it’s all about the people.”
Some great advice. If you haven’t documented core values, do it now. Have a team get together and talk through them. Be sure everyone understands and is committed to them. Start from the top down to roll them out and demonstrate the importance of standing behind them. Work them into all that you do. It becomes very easy to answer a lot of business strategy questions if you understand the core values and set goals…decisions must fall in line or that direction is not likely the right one. Customer service, quality, product development, sales goals, business processes, hiring…all of it should stem from these values. That’s kind of the point of having core values. Don’t lose sight. And most importantly, be committed. If a team member or other key decision is not in line with the core values, cut the loss sooner rather than later. This my friends, will go directly to the bottom line in many ways, I assure you.
So next time you’re interviewing or being interviewed think about heading down to The Station for some 7:00 am breakfast to see if we can work together. The place is clean as a whistle and the food is fantastic.
Not a bad idea for a first date either.