Finding and keeping top talent: The clue is in your culture

Culture. It’s a buzzword in the recruitment industry, but it could also be the answer to your hiring problems. 

“Good culture” is synonymous with opportunity, flexibility and work-life balance. Whereas if a company has a “bad culture”, it’s likely associated with overworking their employees, or sometimes just the result of a toxic manager.  

It’s safe to say most businesses, even small ones, want to have and be known for having a good culture – a place where employees like coming to work. 

But there are many aspects to cultivating a good workplace culture, as we recently learned at the Brisbane Business Hub. Barbara Selmer Hansen, Director of Impact Business Consulting, presented a workshop to share tools, insights and learnings for optimising the people aspect of business. Culture was, not surprisingly, at the forefront of this conversation. 

Barbara says many businesses boast of a big, bold and fantastic culture, but few actually live up to these claims. 

“Basically they put out fantastic statements about why we’re so good and why you should work for us and what we can give you,” she says. “They make people say, ‘wow, I wanna work for this company’. But the problem is if you make big bold statements, you have to deliver.”

She says that good culture is less about free lunch than it is about ensuring your managers are mindful, your values are clear, and your team gets along and works well together. 

Barbara offered a few tips for hiring in line with your culture, and making sure you live up to your promises about your culture. 

Values-based hiring

“A lot of people, when they put a job out, will look for skills, skills, skills. Culture is sort of secondary,” Barbara says.  

“But the thing is that you can teach skills, but you can’t teach culture. If you get the culture part wrong, you could spend three to six months of the employee’s probation trying to work it out. It’s really difficult.” 

Barbara says that you can start the process of finding a good culture fit when you write your job ads, explaining the type of culture you like to cultivate, and looking for matches on the applications. 

“Use key words to describe your culture in your job,” she says. “So if you are inclusive, friendly, and you have a lot of flexibility and you offer opportunities, learning and development, they’re the sorts of things you need to use in your job to describe who you are and why those people will want to work with you. 

“And then you’ve also got candidates who use those words in their cover letters or resumes as well. You’re looking for words that match. So things that you use a lot in your in your business – it could be anything, but if you find yourself saying ‘oh, we use that word all the time’, or ‘that’s my saying’, ‘that’s the mantra that we say in all of our company meetings’, anything like that, you want to see if there’s a match with any candidates come across your desk.”

Transferable skills

If you feel an applicant is a good fit with your values, the next thing to identify are their transferable skills. These skills are general but can be applied across a range of tasks and requirements for jobs. 

“Transferable skills are things like time management, communication, writing, or it could be the way that you interact with a crowd,” Barbara says. 

“It could even be that you have the ability to calm people. It’s anything that you feel would be relevant to the position.”

If you manage to find someone that ticks both of the boxes above, Barbara says the hard skills can be taught on the job. 

“We might do some intensive training with them for an extra few weeks to get them up to speed with our systems,” she says. “But it’s the cultural fit that’s the real winner here for us. And that’s really where you are going to be saving yourself a lot of heartache down the line.”  

Interviewing and choosing a candidate 

According to Barbara, you should be looking to have two to three interviews before you make your final decision in your hiring process.  

“That’s really where you can make an informed decision,” she says. “You’ve spoken to them on the phone, you’ve had the opportunity to have a face-to-face interaction, and that third and final meeting is where they can come in to meet the team in a more casual setting.”  

She says that having interview panels (more than one person conducting the interview) is ideal, as it gives you someone to bounce your feedback off, and check if they felt the same way about the candidate’s responses. 

“I’m a very, very big believer in trusting your gut,” she says. “Don’t hire the best of a bad bunch. I’m sure we’ve all had applications before where you thought none of them are great and none of them are perfect, so this one will do.  

“There’s this temptation that you’ve got to go with objective facts, but sometimes you’ve got a feeling – you can’t really explain it, you can’t put your finger on what it is that you don’t like, but something just doesn’t feel right. 

“Give yourself permission to just follow your intuition and say, ‘look, something’s off here’. You’ve got to trust that.”  

Finding the right balance 

If you’re wondering how to create a positive culture at work, Barbara says to look at work-life balance, and how you reward and recognise your team members. 

“What constitutes a good culture will differ from person to person,” she says. “It might be a bonus at the end of the financial year, an extra week of annual leave, a nine-day fortnight. Whatever works is the most important thing.

“And then there’s attentive leaders. Mindfulness training for managers is now very, very important, because people want to be heard. They want to be listened to, and to work with purpose.  They want to know why they’re actually there.”

And lastly, she says a little pat on the back from time to time goes a long way towards keeping your team engaged. 

“People want to be acknowledged,” Barbara says. “They want to be recognised. They want to be thanked. They want their boss to give them a pat on the back and say, ‘we’ve done a really great job’. Then they feel that the organisation appreciates them, and appreciates their work.” 

Ultimately, Barbara says, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to building a great culture.

“You just need to look beyond conventional ways,” she says. “You need to be comfortable saying to yourself, ‘this is not the right person for me’, or ‘this is the right person’. And if they are the right person, it’s about listening to them when they have suggestions – and, most importantly, giving them the tools they need to succeed.”

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Brisbane Business Hub

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