A Roadmap to Creating a Company Culture that Attracts Talent

| Ameya Deshmukh
Culture & Employee Experience | 12 min read
A Roadmap to Creating a Culture that Attracts and Supports 21st Century Workers

The next time you see a recruiting leader take the stage at HR Tech, they might say, “Recruiting isn’t about what you offer anymore, it’s about what you stand for.” By and large, candidates nowadays care more about the company culture you have to offer. Company culture attracts talent.

As a recruiting leader, you spend a lot of time with the question, “What are candidates looking for in a company?”

Certainly, benefits are part of the picture. But company culture has become the most important factor in attracting talent.

Quotes on culture Mark Krysinski, Vice President, Objective Paradigm

However, company culture is a concept that’s not always clearly understood. The culture of your company, and even the culture of your recruiting teams all affect how you attract talent. To really attract talent with culture, you need to understand it deeply and then apply your learnings by changing the way your recruiting team operates and even changing the culture of your recruiting teams.

It’s all connected.

Here’s what we’ll cover.

  1. Why attracting talent is connected to company culture
  2. The challenge in understanding company culture
  3. Do candidates care about culture?
  4. Why do candidates care about culture?
  5. What are candidates looking for in culture?
  6. What is culture?
  7. How is culture formed?
  8. What are the 4 traits of a strong culture?
  9. What type of culture is needed for the future?
  10. The culture needed to attract and retain talent
  11. 2 case studies of winning cultures in action
  12. How winning cultures help recruiting teams
  13. How to move towards a winning culture
  14. Questions to assess the current state of your culture

Why attracting talent is connected to company culture

The candidate experience?

Candidates view this as a predictor of your company culture.

Your employer brand?

Same thing.

Now, more than ever it’s become important for recruiting leaders to understand just what culture is, what it’s effects are, and what candidates are looking for in it.

Why?

Understanding culture will help you transform the culture of your recruiting teams, communicate the right values about your company’s culture to candidates, and master your role in providing talent to help your company grow.

The challenge in understanding company culture

Culture has always been a nebulous term.

Benefits are measurable, benchmarkable. But culture? How can a recruiting team even begin to understand what a candidate wants in a culture?

What is culture? What kind of culture are candidates looking for? How can recruiting teams communicate culture?

These and others are all questions that arise.

When it comes to thinking about culture, asking one question spawns another question.

Trying to understand culture is like fighting the hydra.

The hydra was a mythical dragon with infinite heads. When you cut one-off, two more spawned in its place.

Hercules killed the hydra.

How did he do it? With sword and fire. Your questions – your sword. The information in this article – the fire.

Ready to slay the culture hydra?

Does talent care about company culture?

Every year, more and more candidates care about culture.

A 2017 survey by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) revealed that company culture was the number one reason why candidates picked one job over another.

Just 5 years prior, employee benefits took the number one spot.

Today, recruiting isn’t about what you offer i.e. your benefits, as much as it is about what you stand for i.e. your culture! The strength of your culture will impact how successful you are at recruiting.

what do job seekers value the most in a company?

Why do job seekers care so much about company culture?

Improved financial status is a strong driver behind this. Money and benefits are no longer enough to keep employees satisfied or to attract the best candidates.

William Sebra, a global operating executive with Futurestep explained, “Today, workers are generally moving beyond basic needs to different priorities.

Understanding the mindset of the current candidate starts with breaking down William Sebra’s statement.

What are their basic needs?

What are today’s workers moving towards?

To understand why candidates care about culture, you have to understand your candidates “why.” Let’s enter the mind of the modern candidate.

Our guide for this journey?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.

Why are candidates looking for in company culture?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a widely accepted and credible model of human motivation. It shows that once our basic survival and security needs are met, our focus shifts to meeting other needs.

Needs like social needs, esteem needs, and finally self-actualization.

Candidates are looking for a culture that meets these higher-level needs. To secure talent, your recruiting teams must demonstrate that culture.

In this section, we’ll examine each of the 3 high-level needs and share 1 way to meet each while recruiting.

Maslow's heirarchy of needs for recruiting

Social needs are the deep needs we have for human connection.

When these needs are met, employees feel a sense of belonging. Ever worked at a company with a culture you really liked? I bet you you felt like you “belonged there.”

One way to meet candidates’ social needs during the recruiting process is by providing an always-on communication channel for them to engage with.

Esteem needs are our desires for respect and appreciation.

These help employees feel valued as an individual. Think back to the last time you got feedback from the person you report to.

Did you get positive feedback? How did that make you feel?

Meet your candidates’ esteem needs by providing them feedback throughout the hiring process.

Self-actualization is what occurs when all other needs are met.

Self-actualization is a complex concept that speaks to the process of meeting one’s full potential as an individual. In the workplace, self-actualized employees are the most engaged.

Show candidates that your company cares about their self-actualization needs.

Recruiters can demonstrate this by asking candidates questions about their long term career goals.

Candidates want to work for a company who’s culture helps them reach the highest level of their needs. Taking small actions early in the recruiting process demonstrates a cultural commitment to meeting these needs.

But there’s more to be gained from a new model of workplace culture than a few improvements to your recruiting process.

For example, culture can be used to:

  • Improve retention
  • Generate more employee referrals
  • Create a network brand advocates

Read on to understand how to get these benefits and more.

What is company culture?

Since culture means so many things to so many people, I thought it’d be best to start with defining culture.

Workplace culture is the “identity” of your organization. It is an invisible, powerful force that subconsciously influences internal motivations that drive actions and decisions. These actions and decisions, in turn, shape your workplace culture.

That’s a brain bender.

So culture is an identity that’s constantly changing itself? Like you were as a teenager?

Not the best analogy.

Company culture is constantly changing

Think about the “changing nature of culture” as an infinitely changing and rotating closed-loop. When I visualize it, I see the ancient symbol of Ouroboros.

In ancient Egyptian and Greek cultures, the Ouroboros signified an infinite cycle of transformative change.

Other concepts it also symbolized included harmony, eternity, and unity - which, incidentally, are all great values to have in your culture)

Embrace change

Carl Jung once said the Ouroborous, “represents the subconscious desire to consume oneself and continually be reborn.”

Jung is saying that you can’t be afraid to change your culture. Embrace the change, it’s constantly happening anyways. Your culture exists in a process of destruction, transformation, and change.

The message here to recruiting leaders?

Create a culture in your recruiting teams that embraces change in technology, strategy, and process. This commitment to change will come across to the candidates you engage while recruiting and speak volumes about the culture of your company as a whole.

Remember your roots

English psychiatrist Helton Godwin adds,” the Ouroborous represents our psychic continuity with the immemorial past.”

What Godwin would have said, if he walked onto a stage at HR Tech today is, “don’t forget where you came from.”

Recruiting leaders, as you change your culture, make sure you stay connected to and build on it’s past. Don’t forget, recruiting is really about people and building relationships.

It always has been and it always will. Balancing these two forces of culture in your recruiting teams’ culture and in the way you engage candidates is essential.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far: 

  • Your culture is the identity of your organization
  • It’s unconsciously affecting everyone’s behavior
  • It’s constantly changing
  • Candidates care about it
  • Your recruiters are subtly communicating it to your candidates
  • Your hiring process is communicating it to your candidates.

Next, we’ll cover how culture is formed and how your recruiting efforts are like a “sneak preview trailer” for normative integration.

How is company culture formed?

The process through which culture forms within an organization is called normative integration. Normative integration is a convergence of different values, norms, attitudes, and beliefs that individuals within the organization share.

It’s a consensus.  When consensus is reached in the convergence, then we have a shared understanding inside the organization.

The process of reaching for and arriving at shared understanding called normative integration is what forms “culture.”

Normative integration is happening constantly and never stops. So, culture is constantly in flux.

A company that has a strong culture means that it’s good at developing a high level of shared meaning amongst its employees.  It also means that the company is able to continue to develop a high level of shared meaning.

What normative integration means for recruiting leaders and recruiting teams:

The ways you communicate with candidates exposes the values, norms, attitudes, and beliefs shared within your organization. Your recruiting process gives candidates a taste of what life will be like if they were to join and normatively integrate into your companies culture.

See the connection? You want to demonstrate the right traits in your recruiting communications. The traits that candidates are looking for.

There are thousands of traits, values, and beliefs to choose from. But 4 are the most impactful to attracting candidates.

The 4 Traits of a Strong company Culture

Workplace culture is fluid and takes time to build. It takes thousands, if not millions, of micro-interactions, values, and traits over time to form a culture. While there are many traits that help shape culture, there are 4 in particular that have proved to be the most meaningful.

  1. Involvement: Value is placed on involving employees in making decisions that affect their work and on knowledge sharing throughout the organization.
  2. Consistency: Value is placed on stability and coordination.
  3. Adaptability: Value is placed on being ready for change and adapting to situations.
  4. Mission: Value is placed on long-term organizational vision.

These 4 traits are the ones most attractive to candidates and the most important for recruiting. Funny enough, they are also the traits that are predictive of overall company performance.

The 4 traits improve company performance and recruiting

These four traits were identified by Denison and Misha who researched the cultural traits and effectiveness of 5 companies from different industries.

The 5 Companies studied by Denison and Mishra:

  • Detroit Edison
  • Medtronic
  • People Express
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Texas Commerce Bancshares

Over the course of several years, the researchers developed case studies for each one through public research and interviews. They found that the 4 traits had an outsize positive impact on organizational effectiveness using both subjective and objective measures of performance.

“The existence of four cultural traits – involvement, consistency, adaptability, and mission are characteristics positively related to perceptions of performance as well as to objective measures such as return on assets and sales growth. Organizational culture is found to be measurable and to be related to important organizational outcomes.”

-Richard L. Daft, Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences.

What the 4 traits mean for recruiting leaders and recruiting teams:

Denison and Mishra’s 4 traits are a powerful force for recruiting and overall organizational effectiveness. Create a recruiting culture that values these traits. Candidates will pick up on it and it’ll make them more likely to want to work for your company.

What type of company culture is needed for the future?

Normative integration (remember that?), is impacted strongly by the interplay between the 2 traits of involvement and consistency.

Companies can be high consistency cultures OR companies can be high involvement cultures.

The difference between high involvement cultures and high consistency cultures comes down to the social reality that exists within the organization. According to Denison and Mishra:

In high involvement systems, the social definition of reality is created by individuals in an inductive manner and while the process may be instigated by a leader it is not prescribed in detail.

In high consistency cultures, social reality comes predefined, the existing managers, executives, and high-status individuals are the agents of socialization, and newer lower-status individuals are subjects.

Denison’s earlier research found that while high consistency can lead to high short-term performance, it is also connected with low long-term performance.

What high consistency vs high involvement culture means for recruiting leaders and recruiting teams:

As the pace of change in technology, the market, and the workforce continues to accelerate to the highest pace ever in human history, your recruiting team’s culture should move toward one of greater involvement.

In fact, your overall organizational culture should become one of greater involvement.  Especially if your culture was typically defined through a high consistency system, such as the manufacturing sector or other industries where employees perform repetitive, highly processed work.

Candidates want to work for companies with high involvement cultures. Create a high involvement culture in your recruiting team and….you guessed it…candidates will notice.

Besides, you’ll reap the benefits of improved performance. It’s a win-win all around.

The company culture needed to attract talent (and retain talent)

Of the 4 cultural traits, involvement is the most important trait for organizations to develop. A highly-involved culture is a strong indicator of positive financial performance. It should be used as the keystone of the culture needed to meet the ever-changing needs of a dynamic workforce.

In Denison’s original 1984 study, he used survey-based culture measures and showed that organizational members’ perceived involvement and participation predicted both current and future financial performance. He found that “a “strong” culture that encourages the participation and involvement of an organization’s members appears to be one of its most important assets.

Creating a high involvement system creates a higher employee engagement level and causes a dramatic shift in metrics if transitioned to from a high consistency culture.

By shifting from a high consistency autocratic culture, teams can improve employee performance and produce better results.

2 case studies of winning company cultures in action

Textile Services

Textile Services (Disney’s laundry operations) is a shining example of how making the shift to a high involvement culture results in long-term benefits. Debbie Zmorenski shared her experience in a ReliablePlant article:

 “When I worked for Textile Services (Disney’s laundries), I was fortunate to have been a member of a committee that changed the laundry operations from a typical, autocratic, authoritarian operation to one of involvement and self-managed work teams. During the process, we thought often of giving up, but in the end the perseverance paid off.

After the culture of involvement was established, the baseline 60% turnover rate was reduced by an average of 5% annually. Both customer and employee satisfaction increased tremendously. The annual survey showed that more than 80% of employees reported that they were very proud to work for Textile Services. Customer survey ratings increased dramatically as well with a satisfaction rate of more than 80% for all aspects of customer service.

Shifting to a high involvement culture also decreased company expenses. The plant was able to reduce the number of managers per shift and per day by 75%. Textile Serves went from the initial 4 managers per shift, 8 total per day to 1 per shift, 2 total per day. Outsourcing was no longer a threat and employees were more engaged and productive than ever.

Nerdery

Another example of a successful company with a high involvement culture is the company Nerdery, a digital consultancy firm with clients like Google and Purina. Nerdery uses a variety of tactics to support a culture of involvement. One way they achieve this is by catering to their employees’ interests. Their conference rooms are decorated in themes to match the diverse set of interests of their employees. Some examples include a Chamber of Secrets and a Jurassic Park room.

Image Nerdery - A Roadmap to Creating a Culture that Attracts and Supports 21st Century Workers

Jim Butts, Principal Software Engineer at Nerdery explained why they take an employee-centered approach to culture, “Trying to create a culture from the top down never feels quite right, so my focus has been in supporting activities (our employees) are passionate about and encouraging everyone to share their interests – however obscure.

Nerdery is committed to supporting its employees’ visions and building relationships throughout the organization resulting in high retention rates and customer satisfaction. When asked what made Nerdery’s culture special to her, Laura Shields, a senior software engineer, team manager responded:

A good culture creates a safe space for people to be themselves. There are a lot of engineering jobs out there. I believe many people choose to work and stay at Nerdery because of our culture. We have a lot of smart, curious and interesting people here to learn from. We care about our craft and fight for our end users. People who leave Nerdery often stay close with their former peers and visit regularly. It is not uncommon for ex-Nerds to come back and work for Nerdery again. There is even a term for it: re-newbing.

How a winning company culture helps attract talent

By involving employees in decision making and encouraging participation, you too can build a high involvement culture. This will, in turn, improve your retention rates and level up talent acquisition. When you have a high involvement culture, you create a strong network of your employees and ex-employees who become talent brand advocates.

With them on your side, you will raise your employer brand and experience better talent acquisition. Your recruitment marketing teams will be able to communicate the strength of your culture through storytelling. Employee storytelling will also become easier because employees are engaged and eager to share their stories.

How to move towards a winning company culture

As the nature of work continues to evolve and change rapidly due to disruptive technology and changing marketplace conditions, a focus on flexibility and adaptation in the culture of the organization will be necessary. According to Denison and Mishra, “Involvement and adaptability are indicators of flexibility, openness, and responsiveness, and were strong predictors of growth.”

To create more flexibility in your workplace, start thinking about workforce transformation and consider some of the recommendations from the Harvard Business Review.

Make a Diagnosis

There are two types of flexible arrangements to consider:

  1. Time Flexibility: Employees are able to work outside of the standard work schedule, such as adjusted start and end times or condensed workweeks.
  2. Place Flexibility: Employees have the option to work remotely from home either part-time or full-time.

Examine both the job and the person to assess how well they would support these types of workplace flexibility. Every situation is unique because every employee is unique. Identify which positions lend themselves well to flexibility and which employees are high-performing and capable of self-management.

Explore the Possibility of a Job redesign

There are a variety of ways you can redesign a job to create a work environment that favors flexibility.

1. Increased Team Work

Not all work needs to be completed alone. Consider a team-based approach rather than assigning individual project responsibilities. This allows for flexibility and collaboration. It also gives you the opportunity to ensure your teams know how the work they are doing aligns with your organization’s values. With this knowledge, they can develop shared meaning amongst their team and with the organization as a whole.

2. Mentoring and Development

Mentoring is a way for your new employees to adjust to their position and begin to develop shared values. By working with an experienced employee, newer staff can also gain skills they wouldn’t have otherwise learned. They can also act as a backup if the expert is unable.

3. Coordination Technology

With ever-changing technological improvements, there are more opportunities than ever to use tech to your advantage. Project management software and video conferencing systems like Skype are just some of the ways technology can support flexibility for your workforce. These types of software can give your employees a way to work remotely, but still stay connected with their team.

While many of the initiatives to transform culture may be out of the realm of talent acquisition leaders – sharing the idea and benefit of high involvement cultures with HR leaders who are held accountable for culture is a great way for TA leaders to add more value.

Assess the current state of your company culture

Shifting to a high involvement culture requires a strong commitment from you and your organization as a whole. It’s not an overnight process, but as Textile Services and Nerdy have shown us, it can (and should) be done.

Your first step is to determine how your current culture stacks up. Take the time to assess the current state of your culture. Do your employees have the opportunity to make decisions about their work? Do you offer flexible scheduling or remote work options?

Also, consider the effects of your current culture on talent acquisition. Are you attracting a high-volume of qualified candidates? Are your employees engaged in their work? How is your current culture positively or negatively affecting your recruitment and retention?

Once you understand the driving forces that have shaped your culture and the impact it has had, you can begin to transform your culture. You can build it into something better – a culture of involvement and flexibility.

What are some things you can do in your workplace to make it a more flexible environment and encourage employee involvement?

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