A well-defined culture is the key to uniting your company and scaling to new heights, says author and high-growth company culture expert Brett Putter. Then why is hiring for culture fit so difficult?

Putter, who is the founder and CEO of CultureGene, a culture consultancy helping prepare startup and high-growth companies for scale, says your company culture is essentially the way your organization works. That means as you develop your business and it grows, your culture will change with it — making hiring for culture fit a tricky, if not impossible, task.

Hiring for well-defined values, on the other hand, is much more executable, Putter says. It’s also good business, leading to better employee retention, collaboration and productivity.

“When people are values-aligned they share much quicker, and the basis of the sharing is around the culture — almost the invisible way the company works,” he says. “We find that people get up to speed much quicker and we find that the root speed on their ROI is much quicker.”

We recently spoke to Putter about his company’s culture-development process and the power of hiring based on values.

Define Your Values

“If you ask any CEO to accurately define their culture, they can’t,” Putter says. “The reason for that is because it’s this almost-invisible, subconscious thing, for the most part, and it changes all the time.”

In his firm’s culture-development process, organizations start by defining their values, mission and vision — and specifically define values first. “Most companies make a mistake and they find the values, they put them up on a wall and tell their people to live those values,” he says. The problem, he says, is that people always interpret the same values differently, which can lead to significantly different decisions.

Instead, Putter starts by having companies taking their values and defining a handful of expected behaviors connected to those values. “That then allows the individuals in the company to understand how they should behave,” he says. “That then allows you to start interviewing and structuring interview questions against those specific behaviors, which are associated with your values.”

Hire Against Values

Prior to founding CultureGene, Putter was the managing partner at a London-based executive search firm, where he successfully completed executive-level searches for hundreds of companies.

When it comes to hiring for senior roles, Puttner says the candidate should be interviewed against your organization’s values first — before against specific skills and experience. “By and large from the CV you can tell if this person can do the job or not,” he says. “It’s more important to not waste everyone else’s time if they don’t fit the values.

CultureGene trains executives who are hiring to conduct the first few candidate interviews in pairs. One person asks questions and watches the candidate responses, while the second person takes notes and focuses on what he or she is hearing from the candidate. “At the end of that the two people get together and they score this person against the believability of those answers,” he says.

For hiring more junior positions at scale, a company can dedicate one person who will do a last-minute values check — after the hiring manager has identified a successful candidate — to ensure that person is a good fit for the organization.

Demonstrate Values During Onboarding

While CultureGene tailors the onboarding around the way each company works, it places a strong emphasis on demonstrating and communicating company values to new hires.

Putter recommends that the CEO begins the onboarding process if possible. “The CEO opens the onboarding and says, ‘This is who I am, I have an open-door policy, these are our values, this is what’s important to me,’ ” he says. Then, at the end of the week, the same CEO could say, “What questions do you have?” and reiterate the open-door policy that was expressed in the opening day.

Putter also encourages organizations to make an effort to incorporate their values into the onboarding process. For example, if prosperity is one of the company’s values, part of the process from the first day could be to share financials and the overall state of the business with the new hire.

The CultureGene process also requires every direct employee who is going to work with the new hire to write a 30-, 60- and 90-day plan that explains what they need to do to work well with the new employee over those periods and what they want to teach the new employee in that time.

“We demonstrate to the employee that’s joining we care about what you are about to achieve,” he says.

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