Many years ago, I was trying to develop a system to quickly identify the best potential candidate fit for clients.

It seemed like every candidate wanted more money, bigger titles, better commutes, work-life balance and so on.  It bugged me was that none of these things firmly addressed improving the probability of a successful hire.

Over time, and with a lot of observation, aligning three categories consistently gave me the best indicator that we put the right candidate in the right role.

The first two, opportunity fit and leadership at both the executive and tactical levels, are easy to explain and identify.  The third, culture, was the most difficult because 15 years ago, I saw it as a catch-all for anything not included in the first two.

That was the wrong conclusion.

Let’s define culture in simple terms.

It is how we go about business, not why.  Working with executive and professional searches over the years has shown me that why a sales professional works can be very different from the why a Chief Operating Officer is willing to do what they do.  Different individuals can have radically different reasons why they are motivated to do their jobs.

It is the how we go about our business that is the binding glue for long-term fit and success.

We can take a candidate with an incredible track record of top performance and put them into a context that is completely contrary to their success.

For example, taking a person from a robust and well-developed organization with loads of resources and putting them into a nimbler organization that lacks similar resources and development.  The candidate will be forced to compensate by working longer hours, taking shortcuts, moving at a frenetic pace while juggling tactical and strategic decisions with very incomplete information against pressing deadlines.  That takes a lot of energy.  And the more energy used to adapt from one very different environment to another means there is less energy to focus on excelling at primary functions.

Align candidates with a business.

If we can more closely align the how a candidate goes about business with how an organization does it, both can dedicate more energy into fulfilling responsibilities and accomplishing performance goals.

What drove this point home for me was placing a Financial Reporting Director from a huge international company into a firm about 1/5 the size.  The reporting requirements and deadlines were all similar, but the new firm had a much smaller staff, less developed reporting systems, less engaged executive leadership and ambiguous processes.  The new Director lasted about seven months before starting to look to return to a more established context.

When working on replacing that Director, another of my candidates received and offer with a big step up in compensation and title.  He came from a smaller background and taught me an important lesson…he declined the offer.  Sure, the money and title were tempting but he understood that the how he would have to go about business there to succeed was not aligned his personal culture.

He really drove the lesson home when I placed him into a smaller context, not too dissimilar to his prior organization, for a small compensation increase and title.  Ten years later, he is now the CFO having grown along with the company.  He succeeded beautifully because cultures were aligned.

What I learned is that even when a candidate has a history of top performance and the business DNA to go far, aligning the cultures, the how we go about business, stacks the deck for success.

Some advice for hiring teams, spend the time and effort necessary to gain clarity about your business culture and spend time in interviews and reference checks to make sure your stellar candidate is aligned with it.  That can make all the difference between a successful hire who out-performs and builds a career with your organization and having to find a replacement a few months down the road.




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