When researching for my most recent book, The Hiring Prophecies: Psychology behind Recruiting Successful Employees, I spent considerable time evaluating the leading predictors of recruiting and retention success. That research, which included insight from more than ten thousand employees and two hundred companies over a ten-year span, taught me many things.

One non-surprising discovery was that a job candidate or employee’s culture fit is the one of the greatest indicators of retention success. Many will agree, but I want to make sure you understand what I consider culture and fit:

Corporate Culture: The collective behavior of the organization including its values, language, and beliefs melded together to define the corporate personality.

Employee Fit: An alignment that occurs when an employee’s natural inclination is in sync with the corporate personality.

Let’s discuss fit a bit further. An employee’s natural inclination is defined as her default operating behavior when she walks into work on day one. That is, without needing to change her nature, would she have acted, responded, and performed in a manner that was literally at ease in her mind? This is the most desired recruit and employee because you do not need to change any of her default settings!

Many organizations often overlook this alignment in favor of “hard skills” or “adaptability.” This is a bit trickier, especially as it relates to adaptability. Even if you seek an employee who is adaptive (typically considered a desirable trait when recruiting or managing an employee), that employee will become more stressed over time as a result of constantly needing to adapt.

As an employer, you want to put yourself in the best position to recruit and keep the best employees. There are three major strides you can take to do this: define your culture, communicate it, and screen for it during your recruitment.

Regarding defining your culture, there is one major premise. It is your personality. As such, it’s your unique corporate fingerprint and no one else can tell you what it is. You also can’t steal it from another organization. You need to determine it for yourself.

Many companies we work with articulate their culture using terms such as self-starting, entrepreneurial, and welcoming. That’s a good start, but when I probe the management teams (let alone the staff) most have varying definitions of what those adjectives mean. Entrepreneurial to one person means “someone who has worn many hats because she has historically worked for smaller companies.” Therefore, she must be an entrepreneur! To another person, it might mean someone who is creative and continually generates new ideas.

I personally have never found a definition of the word entrepreneur that I’ve liked, so I created my own. An entrepreneur, to me, is someone who has a vision of an outcome and without regard for available resources can make that outcome a reality. An entrepreneur never lets obstacles, limitations, or anything of the kind get in his way. The rest of the world is constantly working within boxes and parameters whether they’re working as a sole proprietor, in a small company, or in a large company.

With several different interpretations, how will your organization evaluate whether a job candidate is truly entrepreneurial?

The easiest way to eliminate ambiguity and inconsistency is to identify your culture to the very lowest level so there is no mistaking what each trait means. Once you do that, you need to continually update it for your company’s progress and current market conditions. Whatever you define as your culture in your fifth year of business will be outdated in your tenth year of business.

While this is merely one example, the point is to identify and document as many particular traits as possible. The mixture of the descriptors of those traits, as well as the employee conduct in alignment with those descriptors is what ultimately creates the culture. I suggest identifying a set of universal corporate traits as well as subculture traits by position. The more detail and clarity you have for each position, the greater likelihood of success.

As I mentioned previously, only your company can define its unique culture. Even so, I thought I’d offer twenty of the most common descriptors (listed alphabetically) companies and candidates cite when identifying the culture they have or want.

  • Advanced-Based/Career-Growing—Wants its employees to progress over time and frowns upon those employees who don’t advance.
  • Apolitical—Avoids office politics that can lead to unnecessary work that offers little in the way of increased value or results.
  • Communicative—Remains open with the information it shares with the employees.
  • Customer-Focused—Delivers the highest quality results to its customers.
  • Employee-Focused—Supports the needs of its employees to ensure their output is of the highest quality.
  • Entrepreneurial—Encourages its employees to generate, evaluate, and implement new ideas and concepts without regarding for resource constraints; the status quo is typically unacceptable.
  • Fair—Follows its rules of engagement for all employees and avoids special treatment for the select few.
  • Fast-Paced—Makes decisions quickly and sets aggressive deadlines for achieving results.
  • Fun—Fosters a positive, relaxed, and celebratory environment so its employees will enjoy themselves on a daily basis.
  • Hands-Off/Hands-On Management—Provides (or does not provide) autonomy for its employees to perform their jobs.
  • Hierarchical/Flat—Contains layers (or not, if “flat”) of management review for decisions to be made and initiatives to be approved.
  • Integrity-Driven—Maintains a level of uncompromising integrity, whether it’s related internally among its employees or externally with its customers.
  • Merit-Based—Rewards its employees based on performance rather than tenure.
  • Process-Based—Follows protocol to ensure risk remains low.
  • Responsible/Accountable—Ensures its employees assume responsibilities for their jobs and accountability for their actions.
  • Results-Oriented—Measures performance by the ultimate outcomes.
  • Team-Based—Encourages groupthink and promotes team members chipping in to help each other.
  • Trusting—Provides its employees the autonomy to perform their jobs effectively; this is also common for environments that are more focused on their employees’ performance rather than their “presence” in the office.
  • Welcoming—Remains receptive to its employees sharing varying ideas and viewpoints.
  • Work Hard/Play Hard—Wants its employees to celebrate their accomplishments.

I’ve written many more articles that will be helpful in this area, but one in particular is The Top 12 Happiness Factors for Employees.

You can also find wonderful tips and tricks related to life and work via the usual social spots at LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

As always, I give away a complimentary Interview Intervention eBook if you sign up for the milewalk newsletter on the front page of the milewalk Website!

In other exciting news, The Hiring Prophecies: Psychology behind Recruiting Successful Employees is now for sale…but…if you’re still reading this AND a Human Resources or Recruitment Professional AND located in the United States AND interested in a complimentary hardbound book to review, I will mail one to you! Email me at alacivita(at)milewalk(dot)com and it’s all yours. I believe in these concepts so much that I’m willing to put the $33.95 value in your hands for free.