Last week I was speaking at a conference when the question about how to hire for culture came up. When I asked the audience of more than 400 if they could describe their culture with a few words or sentences, about 20 individuals raised their hands. This is similar to the results I get when I poll other audiences just about anywhere across the country.

So what does this tell us?

Let’s first look at the facts. One definition of culture can be described as “the collective behaviors, values, actions, beliefs, desires, and prospects of a group of human beings working in a defined environment.” Others define organizational culture as a set of “shared mental assumptions” that guide behaviors in the workplace.

These are great descriptions, but how do we apply it to our organizations? The real question is what happens if we don’t apply it? Statistics show that we generally hire for skill and fire for attitude/cultural fit as much as 90% of the time. This statistic falls on our shoulders. We can’t define our own culture in a simple way to recruit against.

You can’t recruit for culture fit if you don’t know your own culture

If a room full of 400 recruiting and HR professionals can’t describe their culture, how can you recruit for culture fit? Do you think your hiring leaders can do any better? Unless you can reverse engineer what your culture is now, it’s difficult to identify candidates that fit without a definition! As an entrepreneur and over 20-years as a recruiting professional, I myself have had this same problem when hiring for any of my own companies. In order to understand what makes people successful in my organization, I had to apply the same approach to reverse engineering.


1. Understand why people are NOT successful. Step one is looking at data. Taking out the skills identification, and what are the behaviors that team members get fired for. For example, if your company has a high tolerance for risk-taking and change, you will find that employees who value stability and consistency may not survive. This doesn’t make them bad employees, it’s just a mismatch for your organization. A desire for stability and consistency are behaviors many employers would kill for! In my organizations, openness to change is an absolute requirement. At the rate we try new approaches, it can be extremely unsettling for team members who prefer consistency!

2. Understand why people ARE successful. For those members of your team that are examples of stellar performers, what do they have in common? If you look hard enough, you will often find the simplest clues that bring them all together. For example, our clients put a value on time, so speed to execution is a common description of our most successful, results-driven, team members. There is nothing wrong with individuals who take more time to process, create beautiful strategic programs, and are considered planners—they just don’t fit our key culture cue of speed to execution.

3. Understand that your culture is unique.Many of our clients’ state “our culture is different from everyone else.” There is more truth to this than many people realize. We make the mistake of trying to be like Google or Apple and hire the same people that are successful in companies that we think are so great—only to see them fail. There is nothing wrong with aspiring to change your culture if it’s toxic, but your culture is still your culture. We have a high level of accountability within our entrepreneurial organization, and it can be perceived as stressful and an overkill. As a result, we need to identify those individuals who run it like they own it. Ownership is a cultural cue that is imperative to our environment.

In the end, you should be able to describe your organization’s culture in simple yet powerful terms. Stop trying to lie to yourselves or your candidates about who you are, and follow the data.

Here is a more detailed example of the Cultural Cues within our organizations:


 Openness to change: We thrive in a dynamic, fast-paced environment where ideas, strategies, and objectives effectively evolve and adapt to the ever-changing marketplace.

 Positive attitude: We maintain a constructive and professional outlook in order to uphold productivity and efficiency and promote diverse viewpoints.

 Strong work ethic: We truly believe in putting people first, functioning at the highest proficiency to take personal pride in the solutions we provide and the relationships we create.

 Speed to execution: We approach each day with the agility, flexibility, and problem-solving necessary to successfully and resourcefully answer the needs of our crew, clients and candidates through swift and precise performance.

 Ownership: We approach each objective and decision with a mindset of “own it.” We own our results and pave our own roads to each destination. Risks are expected.