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Make Culture a Competitive Advantage

Forget products, brand and infrastructure – the ability to acquire and retain top talent is one of the key success factors for any ambitious organisation. The realisation of this by business leaders has led to the most competitive battle for talent I have seen in my 15 years within the recruitment industry.

As a consequence, I am increasingly asked by clients how they build an employer brand that will make them an employer of choice. This is particularly true in high demand areas such as technology, senior sales, healthcare, real estate and engineering.

I don’t think there is a magic answer to this question that will result in an influx of Enterprise Architects, Qualified Accountants, Engineers and experienced Sales Professionals. However one place where all businesses should start is Culture.

The recent Bersin by Deloitte Global Human Capita Trends 2016 report also points to this with the following statistics coming from the survey which was the foundations of the document;

  • 82% of respondents believed that “culture is a potential competitive advantage”
  • Over 50% of companies are now attempting to change their culture in response to shifting talent markets and increased competition

However, the report also highlighted that only 28% of survey respondents believe they understand their culture well, 19% believe they have the right culture and a mere 12% of companies believe they truly understand their culture.

Before looking at setting cultural values it is important to understand what the perception of your current culture is, both internally and externally, and how this impacts the organisations ability to acquire and retain talent. You may already have everything right with only a few tweaks to make.

Should you decide you want to change the company culture or value proposition to aid talent attraction and retention, there are some points you should consider:

  • If you are focussing on using culture as a means to acquire talent, I would recommend doing research in to your target talent population to understandwhat would attract them to a potential new employer?
  • Culture should not be dictated to from the executive board. While it is critical that culture is driven by the CEO the whole organisation need to buy-in and have an input in to those values
  • What business processes need to change to be in line with the new culture? These could be internal but also customer facing
  • A change in culture is likely to have a temporary reduction in productivity due to turnover (not all employees will be bought in initially) and process changes – is this possible and when is the best time to do it?
  • How will you monitor culture and measure the impact of change?
  • How will your employee appraisal and reward scheme reflect a culture focussed environment?
  • How do you assess cultural fit when acquiring talent?

The latter point is one of the hardest to answer but also critical to the success of achieving your goals. If you hire individuals with the wrong cultural traits you risk undermining the initiative, but also – according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) – the result of poor cultural fit can cost an organisation up to 60% of that person’s annual salary.

From my knowledge I don’t think anyone has cornered the market in building assessment tools that will effectively measure a candidates culture fit during the hiring process. However many companies have re-written their hiring process to focus on hiring against culture, Zappos is a great example of this ( where there is more importance placed on getting to know individuals through online communities and a high touch interview process, which also includes input from the companies driver, than skill based assessments and a CV match.

One thing for sure is that if company culture is not high on the priority of the HR and executive strategy your companies greatest asset – talent – may well be looking for an employer where culture is being discussed at the top table.

Thank you for taking your time to read my first blog for New Street, I would welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Charles McIntosh has over 15 years’ experience within the talent industry during which time he has developed knowledge and experience across a range of recruitment and talent solutions in particular within the rapidly growing market of talent research and insight.

This article was also published on Pulse. If you’d like to comment, please do so here.


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