The Surprising Truth about Mis-Hires

Have you ever puzzled over an employee who just wasn’t working out? Maybe he or she meant well, seemed qualified, and worked hard, but things just kept not turning out right . . . and maybe your story ended up with your employee quitting, or even having to be fired. Although managers often blame retention problems on a lack of skills or qualifications, research shows that a surprising 80% of mis-hires are due to culture misfit, and not a lack of competence.

A Sad Tale of a Poor Culture Fit

Karla grimaced as she clocked in late for work again. Rats! She was 11 minutes late, which meant her pay would be docked and she would get another lecture from her manager. This rigid schedule will be the death of me, she thought. I can never seem to get anything right at this company! As she slid into her desk and threw her purse into a drawer, Reyna smiled primly at her from across the room, looking smart in her neatly pressed business suit. Karla tried to smooth out the wrinkles in the cotton gypsy skirt she’d pulled out of the pile on her bedroom floor. Well, that’s what they get for making me work past dinnertime last night on the company picnic promo materials, she consoled herself.

“Are you ready for our 8:15 marketing meeting?” Reyna asked, gathering up her notebook and pen. “John and Sheila are waiting in the conference room. Did you prepare the graphics for the monthly newsletter?”

Karla could feel a twitch coming on behind her right eye. “I thought we were working on the company picnic today. I have some really cool banner and poster ideas ready to present.”

Just then, John poked his head around the corner. “Are you coming, ladies? We’ve got to run through the newsletter so we can tackle our new project—corporate wants to start a quarterly magazine for our customers. We have only a month to produce the first issue. Let’s all plan to work late tonight.” The manager vanished down the hall with Reyna right behind him.

Blinking back tears, Karla thought, I can’t keep up with this crazy company. She squared her shoulders, typed up her letter of resignation, and breathed a sigh of relief.

The Real Problem

Obviously, Karla and her employer had two different sets of workplace values and expectations. How do such misalignments with a company’s culture occur? They often begin with a vague job posting that fails to communicate a company’s culture up front. Compare these two job postings, both for accounting/financial services firms, which in their own way specifically communicate what to expect:

1)      Do you strive toward excellence and want to expand your career? If you take pride in your drive, responsibility, and high degree of accuracy, we need your knowledge and accuracy to run and oversee flawless payroll for existing and future customers. Our  growing company expects and rewards initiative with a bonus system based on company growth, as well as with potential management growth opportunity. Your people-skills, learning mindset, and adaptability will help you succeed in our fast-paced, deadline-oriented environment. Be prepared to hit the ground running alongside our team of hard-working, fun-loving self-starters who will welcome you like family.

2)      Corporate office of established company seeks a punctual, dependable, accurate payroll specialist with strong accounting background to serve current and future customers. Typical workweek 50 to 60 hours. Pay commensurate with experience. Reports to Senior Accountant. Must be able to follow directions and work independently and quickly. Customer interface experience preferred. Some weekends required with great overtime pay. Comprehensive benefits offered after 90 days.

Both of these job postings require the same qualifications, but describe very different cultures! The small company values individuality, initiative, teamwork, workplace relationships, and laughter along with hard work. The ad for the larger company feels less personal; it values someone who can fit quietly into the hierarchy, be responsible, and put in the necessary long hours without complaint.  Neither culture is wrong or right, but considering the contrasting nature of the two postings, they will attract two very different candidate types despite the similarities between the required skill sets.

The Question and the Challenge

Realizing that these differences can make or break an employee’s experience, the question to answer before you hire is, “What defines our company culture?” Chances are, you instinctively know what your culture is like, but you’ve never taken the time to define it and put it into concrete words.  Yet, if you want your next candidate search to attract candidates who best match your culture, you need to take time to define that culture before you hire.

What traits characterize your company culture? Do you play hard, or not play at all? Does everyone come in on his or her own individual schedule, or is the culture group-oriented, highly structured, with a strongly enforced schedule? Does the work require high energy and eagerness to face each new day’s unpredictable challenges, or does it require steadiness and perseverance in the face of sameness day in and day out? What is unique to your company, such as amazing potlucks, casual dress days, special outings, educational offerings, or charity events? (Have you ever been in Walmart when the whole staff gathers for a quick exercise session in the store aisle?)  Think about your company’s mission statement, and what it says about what is important to the company. Then try to put your company culture into words, and especially words that you can incorporate into your next job posting. Even better, challenge your coworkers to do the same, so you can develop a well-rounded, accurate view of your company culture.

But don’t let defining your company’s culture become just an academic exercise. Put that knowledge to work as you write your next job posting and as you form the interview questions you’ll ask upcoming candidates. It really can make a difference in whom you hire and how. Your future employees will appreciate successfully fitting into your culture rather than fighting it. And your company will benefit from the momentum gained by having a well-aligned team.

Marcianne Kuethen

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