How Do You Define Your Culture?

How Do You Define Your Culture?

by Jeanne Knutzen | December 1, 2017

0 Author-Jeanne, Blog, Hiring.Best Practices, INFO AND RESOURCES FOR EMPLOYERS, Management.Supervision, Temporary Staffing.Best Practices get connected


If part of your hiring strategy is to look for employees who are the “right fit” for your culture,  how do you describe your culture?


There is a popular saying that “culture eats strategy for lunch”, which, when applied to the hiring process,  has put a lot of emphasis on hiring employees who not only have the skills to do the job but are the “right fit”.   Unfortunately not all hiring managers know how to describe or define their culture in ways they can build into their hiring process.   For some hiring managers, hiring for  “fit” has become an exercise of finding candidates they “like”,  rather than a purposeful focus on “fit.”

What is culture anyway?

If  by “culture”we mean how people inside an organization behave,  it should be fairly simple to observe.  Unfortunately, most leaders describe their culture in more aspirational terms – using words intended to describe its values or inspire others to behave in certain ways rather than describe how they actually behave.

Employees, on the other hand, tend to describe culture closer to the “truth” – what they  actually experience in the work environment, not just what gets talked about.    We have come to  recognize that there are companies who are very good at “walking their talk” while others have gotten good at living with the big disconnects between the walk and the talk.

Some companies in start up mode are very intentional about how they build their culture, hiring only those employees that “fit”,  often deciding to release employees who don’t because of deficits in performance or conflicts in “job satisfiers.”   Some of these companies have been incredibly successful – finding ways to invite a diversity of employee populations while still adhering to the cultural values most linked to their operational performance.   Others have stumbled because they were slow to identify the  components of their culture that mattered and ended up prioritizing misguided versions of  “fit” (ex. “like”) in many cases compromising both performance and inclusion.

A few companies master the link between culture and hiring practices from their beginning,  while most others have to learn how to do that the hard way.    I remember back to the early days of Microsoft, where their hiring process was a grueling, multi level assessment process that prioritized candidates who  “fit with the culture they were purposefully creating, even over candidates who were more skilled or experienced.    The components of  “fit” were carefully defined and consistently executed, despite the type of job being hired.   It was a thoughtful, exacting hiring process, not the frantic dash for talent that is commonplace today in most start ups!  The results of that early term hiring discipline are indisputable.

All of the above is my long way of saying that defining  “culture” and making “fit” a part of your hiring process  is no easy task.   It takes a strong vision to make it intentional;  it takes planning to craft the right hiring criteria;   it takes discipline to execute  consistently.  

The first step is to get clear on how you and other would define your company culture.  Here’s some of the questions we ask PACE clients to provide a framework for defining their culture.

What is the MISSION of your team – its purpose?  its goals? the kind of competencies most important to its success? 

When and why was the team formed?  What is its purpose?  What competencies does it need to achieve its goals?  Is its current performance measuring up?  Where does it fall short?

Descriptions of the team’s mission can be used to formally communicate the team’s purpose while also emphasizing key performance expectations for all employees.

Teams that have a “strong, well defined” culture are typically made up of individuals who have a clear understanding of the role they play in achieving the team’s mission;  they hold themselves accountable for getting the results needed while also playing to “cultural” norms;  they march in step to pursue their “higher purpose ” while easily assimilating the differences in age, race, color, and personality that actually allow them to accelerate their success.

If you’re creating culture, the first step is to get clear on what the team does.  Why it exists.  What behaviors (not looks) are most linked to the high levels of performance you expect.       

How is “good behavior” defined by team members?  the team’s leadership?    

Apart from purpose, most companys or teams have written and/or unwritten codes of conduct that guides  team member behaviors – how they interact with each other and with people outside their team.  At PACE, for example, we make a big deal about speaking with each other authentically, avoiding anything that looks like going along to get along.  We also preach the value of learning from each other, staying open and curious about the diversity of ideas and perspectives which help us better understand what’s real.  We hire employees who we believe will “speak up” when they see opportunities to improve, while respecting the wide range of perspectives and expertise our team brings to the table.   These are our  “cultural” norms that drive who we hire and how they are managed and developed.   We know that employees who don’t embrace these norms are likely to have challenges getting to the performance levels we need from each employee.

What behaviors are valued most highly in your work environment?   What traits, skills or personality styles are most important for your company or team to be successful at what they do?   What behaviors tend to get recognized and rewarded?      

How are team members expected to work together? How does the team define “teamwork’?  

The business world where most of us work is by its very nature competitive and yet “teamwork” is one of the most common components of any recruiting profile – make sure they will  “get along” in a team environment.   But what does that mean from a behavioral point of view?

In many work environments employees are actually required to gain advantage over another team member in order to get ahead. In some environments, they must know how to work collaboratively or lose their place on the team.  Some teams solve problems together; others require individuals to solve problems on their own.  Some teams meet with each other daily; others will go weeks without a meeting.

Ironically, we find most hiring managers will talk about how important “teamwork” is to their work environment, but rarely will they take the time to describe what that means – in their work environment.

How do people work together or solve problems at your company, and on your team?  When and how are people expected to work collaboratively?   When are team members expected to work independently? 

How do decisions get made?    

The way in which a team, or its leaders, make decisions has a big impact on the “culture” of a team as well as the decision making skills they need in order to look for prospective candidates.   Do decisions tend to get bumped upwards in a hierarchical fashion, or are individual team members encouraged to make decisions on their own?  What information or analysis is used to make or rationalize decisions?  Is your culture best described as analytical or intuitive?  Do you organize hierarchically or in a matrix format with lots of cross functionality?  And, what happens when someone makes the wrong decision?  How are mistakes dealt with?

Given how decisions are made on your team – what decision making experience should you be looking for in a prospective employee?       

How does your team operate in the face of adversity?  How do they respond to challenges?  

When organizations face change or unexpected challenges, the culture often changes to reveal itself differently compared to when things are “going well”.  For some teams, the fear of failure or extended periods of uncertainty, will trump its focus on people.  For others, adversity sharpens the team’s focus on people, and mobilizes it to make sure each individual excels.

Is your culture changing in response to things going on outside its control?  What pressures will your team face in the near future that might cause a shift in culture?      

How do team members communicate with one another?  How do they communicate with leadership?  

Communication is an overarching set of processes that in total, reveals a lot about a team’s  culture – What information is shared and how?  How is feedback delivered and received?  Who talks to whom about what?  Is information open and available for everyone to review, or are some pieces of information held close to the chest?  How does the team reach outside of themselves for information or ideas?

How would you describe your team’s typical methods of communicating?  How does your team share ideas?  How do they give or receive feedback?  When hiring for the “right fit” what “communication styles”  will work best with  your team?  

How does the team or its employees get recognized for their achievements?   

The way a team, or its team members, earn recognition for a job well done plays a significant role in defining culture. If standards are high and recognition scarce, the culture of the team will not be attractive to employees who need frequent sources of recognition or reward.

What kind of programs are in place to reward the team or its team members for exceptional efforts and/or Results?  Do team members have to compete with each other for rewards, or does everyone get rewarded when the team does well?

How often and in what ways does the team get involved with their community?

One of the ways culture is defined is reflected in the team and/or company’s commitment to the larger community in which they work – how do they get involved with issues or challenges that don’t necessarily impact their business.  Teams who commit time and attention to causes outside of themselves typically have cultures very different from team’s who have a more singular and internal focus.

How often and in what ways does your team participate in activities outside of the organization?  How much time does your team spend contributing to causes that don’t directly impact the team’s performance?

Here’s some additional reading on what factors to considered when selecting employees who “fit” – Click here. 



PACE Staffing Network is one of the Puget Sound’s premier staffing /recruiting agencies and has been helping Northwest employers find and hire employees based on the “right fit” for over 40 years.

A  3 time winner of the coveted “Best in Staffing” designation , PACE is ranked in the top 2% of staffing agencies nationwide based on annual surveys of customer satisfaction.

PACE services include temporary and contract staffing, temp to hire auditions, direct hire professional recruiting services, Employer of Record (payroll) services, and a large menu of candidate assessment services our clients can purchase a la carte.

To learn more about how partnering with PACE will make a difference to how you find and hire employees,  contact us at 425-637-3312 or e mail our Partner Solutions  team  at

Need help with your next hiring project?   Request our services  here.   

We’d Love Your Comments on this Blog…

In today’s market, its never too early to get started on your next staffing challenge…..

Connect Now

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Previous Post Next Post