Corporate culture must become tangible

leadership development recruitment

Corporate culture and cultural fit are becoming increasingly important in connection with recruiting. Culture-based recruiting is proclaimed as the key to recruitment success, successful on-boarding, employee satisfaction and retention. It is intended to reduce mismatches, friction losses and fluctuation, thus saving costs and promoting corporate success.

Surveys of applicants show that a look behind the scenes is crucial for their choice of employer and that they expect authentic and transparent communication about corporate culture. On the other hand, companies often find it difficult to do just that and to provide insight into job ads, career sites, business networks and social media. No or only general, cliched statements make it difficult for applicants to check whether they can identify with the corporate culture of the potential employer. Applicants also have quite heterogeneous and unspecific ideas about what corporate culture means to them.

No wonder, then, when test procedures are developed that try to determine the degree of fit with the help of IT. Even if these might be helpful, they often encounter acceptance problems with applicants and the company side is also hesitant to use them.

Why corporate culture is so difficult to grasp and describe and what opportunities and risks cultural fit tests have, we talked to Prof. Dr. Klaus Eckrich about.

He teaches corporate management, leadership and management methods at the University of Applied Sciences in New Jersey and advises companies on change processes and leadership issues. He is also particularly interested in corporate culture.

Hire Your Talent: Companies want their employees and applicants to match the company as closely as possible and identify with its culture. But if you ask what corporate culture is or what distinguishes it, you often get an evasive or spongy answer. Do you have one?

Prof. Klaus Eckrich: It is easy to understand why those responsible in a company find the cultural concept difficult to understand, because management theory offers a wealth of different ideas about culture that is difficult to comprehend. The practitioner often feels the same as the manager, who gets to the heart of his problem: “When I think of corporate culture, I feel like trying to nail a pudding to the wall. No matter how hard I try, I don’t get it fixed.”

In recent years, however, an understanding of the term has crystallized in the professional world, on the basis of which I can clearly answer your question with “yes”: According to this, corporate culture refers to the totality of behaviour patterns as well as the attitudes and values of the people working in the company that control behaviour. I think this concept is clear and simple.

Your question contains an implicit part two, namely what “distinguishes” the culture. It’s not about the concept of culture as such, but about filling the concept with company-specific content. Example: Creative action is expected at the behavioural level. Or the value “discipline” is highly valued in the company.

With this understanding of culture, the company is in a position to communicate its cultural ideas concretely to applicants: What kind of behavior do we expect from you? Which attitudes should you bring along and which values should you share and live if you want to be successful in the company?

Hire Your Talent: If you want to check a fit from person to culture, you have to be able to describe your own corporate culture. However, many companies find this difficult. They suggest a cultural analysis. Which possibilities are there and which do you recommend for an initial examination of your own corporate culture?

Prof. Klaus Eckrich: It makes sense to think first of the employee survey. This procedure delivers reliable results, sheds light on the “zone of hunches and guesses” and is particularly popular in larger companies, not least because of the appearance of making corporate culture measurable.

However, employee surveys also have their drawbacks: dealing with the results and initiating change requires a degree of professionalism that many managers lack. The pressure under which they find themselves causes problems for many superiors and often makes them look bad. If the instrument of questioning is used too little, entire management teams run the risk of gambling away their credibility.

There are lower threshold methods to get an idea of the culture. With the help of a value discrepancy analysis, for example, it can be made clear where the postulated values defined in the mission statement and the values actually lived drift too far apart. The virus vitamin analysis already makes it clear by its name what it is about: In analogy to medicine it is about the identification of viruses, which impair the efficiency of the corporate culture and of vitamins, which provide performance enhancing effects in the company. Finally, storytelling can also be used to make the specific characteristics of the corporate culture more comprehensible.

This means that management teams that are dealing with culture design for the first time can start off with lighter luggage and then make use of the “employee survey” option with a sharper eye.

Hire Your Talent: You just mentioned corporate mission statements. In such, corporate values or the desired corporate culture are often manifested. Experience has shown, however, that many of these ideas lie in drawers, may be placed on websites or adorn the corridor, but receive little attention in everyday working life. Why is this asked one way or another: What has tattered the reputation of the mission statement so much?

Prof. Klaus Eckrich: The mission statement does indeed enjoy the reputation of a management tool: In theory, the concept appears rather diffuse. And the practical handling by managers sometimes reaches into the grotesque.

The concept of the mission statement is to make rather general, not further concertized statements and thus leave an unspecified degree of room for interpretation. Lawyers refer to a comparable legal phenomenon as “rubber paragraphs”. The idea of a mission statement is also linked with numerous synonyms or even mixed with other management concepts such as vision or strategy. Even the basic concept of the mission statement is much more difficult than other management tools.

The reasons for the bad reputation are mainly to be found in the application in the company: Managers sloppily formulate the mission statement and implement it in day-to-day management. Many of them reveal those leadership weaknesses that they also show in dealing with other management tools. Some exploit the immanent weaknesses of the mission statement concept negligently or intentionally. They light fog candles with eloquence and intellectual horsepower and impress their environment, especially the supervisory board and the public, but less the employees. The result: the mission statement loses its already limited radiance. The mistake is then blamed on the management tool instead of investigating the causes where they really lie: With the users.

Hire Your Talent: Corporate culture is therefore not something that can be defined in a mission statement; it must be lived and experienced. Do you have any examples of how HR and managers can implement corporate culture in their day-to-day business?

Prof. Klaus Eckrich: First of all, I see the managers as having a duty. No PowerPoint presentation lacks the demand for a role model role when it comes to change in a company whose success depends on changes in the behavior of its members. That’s the right thing to do. Every employee is culturally influential, but the behavior of superiors plays a special role, why? Because employees unconsciously, sometimes consciously, orient themselves to how the boss approaches things. However, if you take a closer look at management practice, one writer’s statement seems to be confirmed: “It’s the same with role models as with ghosts: If you get to grips with them and call them by their names, they dissolve into smoke!

Secondly, the process of cultural change is supported by the learning of people in the organization. Here we must warn against a widespread error in management: promoting learning is also an original task of the superior. HR supports with its strategies and tools the personnel and/or high-level personnel development and provides with expert knowledge and expertise for the fact that the organization of learning is arranged effectively. The responsibility for the results and the impact on the culture, however, lies with the line manager. The line manager’s tendency to delegate responsibility to HR is understandable. The result, however, is that learning and working practice are not sufficiently interlinked and that the desired effects on the culture evaporate.

Finally, the structures in the company also contribute to shaping the culture. One finding of management theory suggests that structures determine behavior. A simple example illustrates the effect: Regular, reliable meetings mean that employees have the opportunity to exchange ideas more intensively. But: the quality of use also plays a role in the structures: Promoting good meetings, unprofessional meeting structures inhibit the communication culture.

Hire Your Talent: Recently, test procedures have been developed for recruiting so-called Cultural Fit Tests, which are intended to check the fit of applicants with the corporate culture. What opportunities and risks do you see in the use of such tests?

Prof. Klaus Eckrich: The tests mentioned can be a good supplement if they support the self-reflection of the applicant and the recruiting company representatives. Possibilities resulting from a good “fit”, but also points of friction or possible incompatibilities are recognized earlier. On the part of the enterprise costs and time losses can be reduced. The applicant can be spared a “culture shock” or even a decision that is detrimental to his career.

One must see however also the damage potential completely clearly: This begins with culture-diagnostic procedures that end up in the wrong hands. It continues through over-engineering in the development of questions and the assessment of interdependencies and goes as far as segregating the test from corporate reality. In other words: If the self-reflection of the representatives of the receiving culture is blocked, tests turn into their opposite: they deliver strange results, run according to scheme F and have an alienating effect on the applicant.

I consider the constructive and eye-to-eye dialogue between applicants and future superiors/colleagues to be a priority and goal-oriented.

Hire Your Talent: Integrating new employees also means familiarizing you with the corporate culture and involving you in its further development. From your point of view, how can this be successful, especially in the context of induction training?

Prof. Klaus Eckrich: The decisive factor is how the new employee experiences the corporate culture. Does he experience the culture in the way the company communicates it or are there noticeable breaks between the publicly proclaimed culture and the actual behavior of colleagues and superiors?

Companies now also carry out professional on-boarding. The focus is usually on the presentation of the persons and areas as well as on the technical aspects. It is rare, but increasingly common, to see explicit reference to the culture and, for example, an active focus on dealing with the mission statement.

The introduction to the corporate culture happens quite quickly if conceivable contradictions between lived behavior and postulated values, or those experienced by the new organisational member himself, are openly addressed by the supervisor or among colleagues. An example would be that the organisation upholds team spirit in its announcements, while there are also corners in the company where superiors slip into the work of their team with directive behavior or employees withhold important information from their colleagues.

There is no such thing as the perfect world, but reflecting and talking about fractures signals to the new employee that they are serious about corporate culture. This helps them to position themselves in the new culture instead of distancing themselves from it.

Hire Your Talent: Prof. Eckrich, thank you very much for the interesting interview about corporate culture.

Published by Dave John

Decade of work experience in leadership consulting with strong focus on talent acquisition & assessment across different industries and geographies.

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