3 Tips for Building the Right Corporate Culture

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, in my ten-plus years as a finance recruiter in Toronto, it’s that culture matters. It matters to employees, growing numbers of whom are looking to work at companies where they have a real rapport with their colleagues and managers. Compatibility with a company’s work culture and environment, in fact, is becoming just as important a consideration among many jobseekers as salary, benefits, and commute, when they’re trying to decide between employers.

But culture matters to employers, too. A positive and impactful work culture can raise productivity, employee morale, and retention rates. I’m not talking about fuzzy, feel-good stuff here — hiring for fit has a real, quantifiable ROI. According to a 2010 Hewitt Associates study of more than 900 organizations globally, companies with high levels of engagement among their employees outperformed the total stock market index, posting shareholder returns 19% higher than the average in 2009 (by contrast, companies with low employee engagement reported a shareholder return 44 per cent lower than the average).

In a ruthlessly competitive economy, companies are looking for any advantage they can secure over their rivals. As JetBlue CEO Dave Berger has explained, a company’s culture might be the only “trade secret” that can’t be copied or commoditized. “The hard product…as long as you have a chequebook, [that] can be replicated,” Berger says. “It’s the culture that can’t be replicated. It’s how we treat each other. Do we trust each other? Can we push back on each other?” A proprietary technology can be imitated, while a star performer can be recruited away by a competitor. But a successful culture? That’s bigger than any single individual or innovation, and can survive them both.

So how do you build a unique and original work culture that motivates people, delivers results, and attracts the top talent? How can you, as an employer, make your workplace somewhere your staff are excited to be at — and that others are champing at the bit to join? Here are three pointers to help you build the right culture.

Compatibility with a company’s work culture and environment, in fact, is becoming just as important a consideration among many jobseekers as salary, benefits, and commute, when they’re trying to decide between employers.

1. Define the culture you want at your company
Every organization has its own unique personality, which is usually a composite of its management and staff. JetBlue and Southwest might both be major players in the U.S. airline industry, but their working environments are distinctive; the same applies to Apple and Google, whose corporate cultures and philosophies are as different as night and day. Iconic companies like these are as well-known among jobseekers for their one-of-a-kind corporate cultures as they are among customers and clients for their inimitable products and services.

In order to sell your company’s culture to candidates and clients alike, you need to be able to say what it is. What are your core values? Brainstorm the things that make your organization tick, and that are vital to the job that you do and the product or services you provide. What is most important to your company’s success? Innovation and risk-taking? Ethics and integrity? An independent and entrepreneurial spirit? Being a team player? These aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive; nor are there any “wrong” or “incorrect” values. That said, some companies and industries will prioritize some things over others.

For example, humour and fun are important values here at Clarity Recruitment. We’re serious about our work, but we also like to enjoy ourselves, and that’s something we’ve identified as being integral to our identity as a company — what makes us different from others in the industry. Take some time to figure out what makes your own outfit unique, or what you’d like to be known for.

2. Display your core values
Once you’ve determined what kind of culture you’re shooting for and the basic values you’d like the organization and its people to embody, you’ll want to broadcast it, to your employees — current and future alike — as well as your customers and partners. Saying that your company’s culture is such-and-such doesn’t necessarily make it so, of course; but constantly repeating and restating it publicly will help to fix it as an ideal in everyone’s minds.

Most companies will already have documented their values somewhere — for example, in their internal literature, such as employee handbooks and policy manuals. Some summary of your corporate philosophy should also be included, however, in public documents, like job postings, marketing materials, and other official communications, so that candidates and clients have an idea of the type of environment you’re operating. What’s the point of having a great and vibrant culture if you’re not telling all the people you work with — or might hope to work with — about it?

But your values shouldn’t just be committed to print or paper; they should be reflected in the very physical environment, design, and architecture of the company — everything from your office décor to your floor plan. For example, if your goal to promote a more collaborative, team-oriented culture, then you’ll want to provide plenty of shared spaces — meeting rooms and the like — for people to meet and work together. Maybe you’re looking to develop an environment that’s not so traditionally top-down, with managers and staff freely interacting with one another, both formally and informally; in that case, it might make sense to have a more open floor space, with offices and workrooms relegated to the edges. Put some thought into how you can give some real life and body to your core values.

…just because a candidate is qualified for a position doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a good fit for your company.

3. Hire for attitude over aptitude
In many ways, the relationship between culture and hiring is as circular as that between the chicken and the egg: the best way to establish a culture that attracts great people…is to have hired great people who help to establish the culture in your organization. Nothing contributes to — or, potentially, detracts from — a company’s culture more than its employees. The longer tenured employees and more senior managers will set the example and tone for everyone and everything else in your company, so it’s important to make sure that they’re cut from the right cloth.

That means recruiting people with a view to how well they mesh with with the cultural ideals and values you’re looking to nourish. Fit, in fact, is often the most valuable predictor of a hire’s success in their position. There’s no dearth of candidates with long and impressive resumes, so your focus needn’t be exclusively on hiring people with the right skills and experience. Look for those who are committed to the same fundamental ideals and exhibit the same personality as the ones you value.

And keep in mind — just because a candidate is qualified for a position doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a good fit for your company. SouthWest Airlines is famous for its philosophy of “hiring for attitude, training for skill,” on the belief that it’s easier to teach new competencies than to break old habits. The bottom line? If you hire people for what they know, you may very well end up letting them go for who they are — especially if who they are doesn’t jibe with who you are, as a company.

To create the kind of culture that drives value and productivity, and drums up interest from candidates and customers, you need to be something of a “culture warrior.” Imprinting your company’s purpose and values on every facet of it requires that you remain actively involved and vigilant in promoting and preserving the kind of culture you envision for it — the kind that will boost both your bottom line and your employees’ morale. But by following these three steps, you can establish a winning corporate culture and work environment, so that your organization is something more than just the sum of its parts.

Let us know what you think! At Clarity Recruitment, we’re always interested in hearing from accounting and finance professionals like yourselves, who are ready for new, exciting opportunities that can take their careers to the next level. And be sure to follow us on Twitter (@clarityrecruits) and connect with us on Facebook for more great tips and advice!