In Business

Culture is a powerful multi-tool. It slices. It dices. It motivates performance and leads to retention of customers and employees alike.


And… It’s a recruiting juggernaut. Company Culture is a major recruiting unfair advantage.

Recruiting in Two Parts

One aspect of recruiting is getting your openings in front of the right applicants – the perennial need-based marketing problem. That’s what Monster and ziprecruiter and oodles of other jobsites are out there to help with. It’s a tricky problem, a tough problem, and ultimately a simple problem. And that’s not my bailiwick. Part 1: Find people.

The second side of the problem is being a place that’s attractive to top talent. Part 2: Attract people. 

How do you create a company that people want to work for? How do you draw people in, so they’re on the lookout for your postings, and sending you resumes even when you’re not actively recruiting so you can have a full bench? That problem can also be divided in two.

One half of the problem is essentially compensation. Salary, benefits, bonuses, signing bonuses, moving allowances, food in the break-room, and other perks. That’s not my area of expertise either. (Notice I’ve put food in the “compensation” bucket. I’d put time-off, education stipends, and other such things in the same bucket. Most people I read and talk to categorize that stuff as culture. I see it as a result of culture, but not culture itself.)

That leads me to my area of expertise, and the second category of attractiveness – CULTURE. This is the powerhouse of attractiveness. This is where the little guy can compete with the giants in any given industry. The little guy may not be able to compete on salary or benefits. The little guy can compete on fulfillment.

Unfair Advantage in Recruiting

Most companies can’t rely on salary as their recruiting advantage. If that’s you, don’t worry. There’s hope.

At the end of the day, we all want to have a life that’s worth living. Salary can help us get there. It’s tough to live without being able to afford a decent home, put food on the table, etc. So, salary indirectly affects and contributes to a life worth living. I bring in $X dollars/month isn’t the evidence most people point to when it comes to satisfaction or fulfillment. It’s a proxy.

Money allows time for family and friends. It allows for experience like travel, art, sky-diving. Those things directly impact a live worth living. Experience is the key. Experience of relationships, of spacious time, of novelty and diversity. Even for those of us who are more money focused, it’s the experience of status and of wealth (a state of mind). Compensation provides an experience of being valued and being ahead in the game.

Culture is the key.

What’s culture? Culture is the contagious beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors shared in a specific group. And in a company, culture is either deliberately shaped and reinforced, or it happens by chance. Chance culture will usually trend to the baser natures of the people in leadership. It trends toward the lowest common denominator. Deliberate culture takes care and feeding. What’s measured and rewarded is reinforced.

What’s the day-to-day experience of work? That’s the job satisfaction juggernaut. And it’s becoming more so, as the social culture around us focuses more and more on company culture. People are coming to insist that work should be good. Glassdoor.com exists because of this shift. It’s intended to help people identify where their day-to-day experience will be fulfilling. Company culture, perhaps more than compensation, contributes to a day full of fulfillment and a life worth living.

In a strong culture, people have meaningful relationships with others – whether they ‘like’ each other or not – because they’re collaborating to achieve a shared goal. Their contributions are valued. Their personal lives are given credence and weight and they’re permitted to pursue a balanced life.

Soap Box Aside: Work-life balance is a fallacy. If you’re trying to find work-life balance, you’ve already lost because you can’t balance one against the other. It’s a false dichotomy. Work isn’t difference from life. Work is a part of life. Strive for a balanced life, and you’ll be more valuable outside of work and at work both because you’ll take a wider view that permits greater relevance to the situation. You’ll put more time in at work when a deadline looms. You’ll put more time in at home when you’ve got a new baby. You can give weight to different events and circumstances instead of keeping an accounting of hours spent and effort given.

By building a culture that reinforces collaboration, communication, recognition, personal growth, community, high performance and achievement, humane choices, constant feedback, relationships of mutual interest and respect… A company’s leadership can create an environment that’s attractive, even if the compensation package is less than competitive. Reputations are built on culture, for better or for worse. Your top producers will be fulfilled, and will talk about their experience with their friends, and share about their experience on social media. The old adage is true – Word of mouth marketing is the best marketing. And top performers’ friends are far more likely to be top-performers as well. Like follows like.

You can’t Surpass Your Culture

Culture is also far more transparent than most of us are generally aware of. Those who are even the slightest bit culture aware will sense any incongruence between the values on the wall, and the contagious habits of those whom they meet and speak to during the recruiting process.

And remember, recruiting by the best begins long before you post a position. Recruiting begins when you open your doors and start to do work. Every interaction your people have with one another, with clients, with vendors reflects your culture and builds your reputation in the marketplace.

And nature loves integrity. Not integrity as in, “Do the right thing.” Integrity meaning, “Of a muchness – cut from the same cloth.” Your sales culture reflects your service culture reflects your collaborative team culture reflects your management culture reflects your leadership culture.

Choose and shape your culture with as much care as you choose and shape your business model and business plan. Recruit powerfully.

What to do today

Here’s your Mighty Good Work Checklist:

  1. Play the long game. It takes time and deliberate action to build a lasting culture to your design specs. It’s an investment, and it pays dividends.
  2. Start Now. Don’t put off starting the long process to shape the culture you want to work in and that others want to work in. It’s not true that every day you wait to start is another day until you have the results you want. Every day you wait, the culture you’ve got (which is imperfect no matter how good it is) gets stronger.
  3. Focus on your people and make work work for them. Your best recruiters are the people who work for you. Want more people like them? Make sure they’re fulfilled by their work and would be proud to bring their friends into the fold.
  4. Broaden your KPI focus for yourself as a leader. You’re responsible for results, yes. You’re also responsible for the relationships with the people who attain those results for you. Their experience is a leading indicator of your long term and ongoing results.
  5. Ask your people to recruit NOW. Dig your well before you’re thirsty. Build your bench before you need people. Ask your people to help you grow your network of people you’d like to work with in the future. Have an ace up your sleeve. (Mix as many metaphors as you can.)
  6. Only hire a sure-fire fit. Don’t hire to fill a seat. You can struggle on understaffed far better than you can carry dead weight. Hire for culture fit (diverse culture fit) and skill, both. If you hire someone who undermines the culture you’re working to build, everything, everything gets harder.

Other resources:

In the podcast episode that’s a companion to this blog post, I mention a few companies who are killing it in this department and past podcast episodes where they share the secrets in their culture sauce. Here they are for your reference.

Aaron Schmookler
Aaron Schmookler is Co-Founder and Trainer at The Yes Works, dedicated to helping companies create and maintain a culture of communication, collaboration, and innovation through improv training dynamically correlated to the real work of real teams. Improv: The competitive advantage you’ve been looking for.
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