Building a Positive Culture from the Ground Up | 5 Pro Hiring Tips

To stay competitive in today’s talent market, your organization needs a positive culture that sets your team apart. Here are the 5 hiring tips to get there.

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how to build a positive culture at work

To stay competitive in today’s talent market, your organization must have a culture that sets your team apart. Ideally, employees are happy, dynamic, cooperative, and display ingenuity– but these characteristics necessitate a healthy work environment, support, and a positive culture in the office.

While this may seem like common sense (and all the rage in Silicon Valley), many companies and businesses are still unsure how to attain this ideal culture. Many will look for quick, glitzy fixes– providing lunches, comfy couches, pool tables, office yoga classes– but these work perks are not what define company culture. It’s much more complicated than that.

What defines company culture?

Well, that’s hard to answer– so we asked a professional.

Marc Prine has a Ph.D. in Industrial Organizational Psychology and founded MIP Consulting, standing for “Management Integrating Psychology” Consulting. As an I/O psychologist, Prine specializes in the study of human behavior in organizations and the workplace. He studies the culture within organizations and advises on how to select the right people to help foster that desired environment.

“Some leaders tend to oversimplify culture,” says Prine. “The way ‘culture’ is defined academically is a lot more behavioral-based than the way pop management has started talking about it. When I think about building culture, it’s about building a team and selection of employees based on behavioral competencies and abilities. A positive culture will be the byproduct of selecting the right individuals.”

A positive culture will be the byproduct of selecting the right individuals.

How to hire the “right person”

Trying to fix culture by throwing free snacks and meditation classes into the mix is like treating the symptoms to an illness, not the root cause of the illness itself. In fact, according to Marc, there isn’t a lot you can do to fix the culture on the surface level. You have to start at the foundation.

“The trick to creating positive culture is hiring those with the right technical skills, but also those who do things in the right way. They have to have values that fit with your company and your style of work. So it’s a combination of those two factors that’s going to lead to the culture that you’re looking for.”

Finding the perfect person for the job is every hiring manager’s goal. But what’s the secret to doing so? That’s where Marc comes into play. Companies hire him to help them perform what’s called strategic job analysis, a process which adds quantitative data to candidate selection.

“So, that basically comes from everything from the job description to the recruiting process, and how you’re selecting people who will ultimately construct the culture you want,” says Prine.

5 hiring tips from a pro

There’s no getting around it; you won’t have a positive culture without the right people. Here’s how to get there:

1. Strategic Job Analysis

Strategic Job Analysis can sound daunting, but the ideas behind it are quite accessible. To get started, have current employees fill out job analysis forms, or interview them to get a good grasp on what each job role entails. It’s also a good idea to ask managers what skills are the most useful in the roles they oversee. All of these steps will help you identify specific skill sets and traits that will make the ideal candidate. (Lifehack: you can also hire a pro like Marc to help you out.)

2. Create a standardized interview

Develop a structured interview and specific metrics to use across candidates.

“The first thing I do is identify which behavioral competencies are necessary for this job role, field, and organization. If, for example, there are six competencies you’re looking for in a candidate, then that interview will dig into those areas, and I will use those same six questions for everyone we interview.”

Not only is this a productive, strategic, and fair process, but it can also help you avoid tricky legal situations.

“If you walk into a room and you just say something like tell me about yourself, then you’re not really getting any predictive value from that interview and you’re more likely to unearth certain information that would suggest some background information or hint at their religious affiliations, sexual orientation, etc. Once that data is added into the process, then you’re more likely to have problems and potential for bias.”

3. Ensure employees are properly incentivized

It’s not what your employees accomplish, but how they accomplish it. If you prioritize making sales over the nature or fit of each sale, there can be negative consequences. Sales reps will end up selling to clients that aren’t the best fit for your product, and there will be tension and unhealthy competition within your sales team. It’s important to examine those dynamics and understand the potential implication.

Marc takes this concept way back– to old school operant conditioning. “Operant conditioning is about carrots and sticks. It’s creating an environment in which people are incentivized in the right way; the process by which things are done is just as important as any output. That process builds culture.

4. Write a realistic job preview

A common mistake of trying to fix your culture on the surface-level is advertising a false work environment. Don’t promise an office culture you can’t deliver on; it will most likely have adverse effects.

“There’s a crazy finding in psychology research: if you tell people exactly what you expect of them, that’s what they do,” says Prine. “It’s important to get rid of any role ambiguity there might be.”

Try to include a detailed description of what to expect, even on a day-to-day basis. Include the fun things your team does together, but don’t embellish.

“Don’t say you’re a fun company and then cite your ping pong table as the reason why– that doesn’t mean you’re fun. If you’re going to expect the person to occasionally work 15-hour days, then let them know that. It’s going to attract the right kind of person and predictability can ultimately increase job satisfaction.”

Remember: there’s a good, bad, and ugly to every single job.

5. Be open to change

Be open to some changes, but don’t worry– you don’t have to change everything.

“Everyone is hesitant to change. What I would say is define what you like about the old process, then what you’re looking for, identify your pain points, and then take the empirical-based approach based on all of that data.”

We don’t leave other aspects of our roles to intuition or “gut feels,” so why would you leave your hiring to this instinct?

“The problem is that I typically deal with older managers who say things like, ‘I know talent when I see it,’ so I want to talk about that mindset. Have you ever made a bad hire that way? Okay, then maybe it’s time to try something new.”

Moving Forward

It turns out that the secret to hiring for “culture fit” is more analytic than the way it’s been viewed in the past.

First, identify your core values, your ethical standpoints, and the way in which you incentivize your employees. Create standardized interview questions for each role and train all your hiring managers to stick to those questions; discuss what they should look for in candidate responses and keep the conversation clear from casual questions that will reveal delicate information.

When you hire the right employees for the right reasons, a positive culture will happen. Plain and simple; no shortcuts. So ditch the ping pong table and go find your top talent– happy hiring!

Pssst, need more help building a positive culture? Check out our employee handbook! We offer over 20 customizable templates to help your new employees understand and contribute to the culture you’re building within your office.

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