Hiring Wisely: When You Interview, Culture Is the Name of the Game


The more I think about our eternal struggle to handle workplace issues, the more I come to the conclusion that there is one issue that drives all others.

It's all about culture.

When you focus on building a strong, sensible, vibrant culture that reflects great values, all the other workplace problems seem to take care of themselves.

Culture is the name of the game

I wrote about this recently when I noted that all the time, money, and effort spent to improve employee engagement doesn't seem to have done much of anything given that Gallup continues to find that only 32 percent of American workers are engaged on the job.  And I added this:

Employee engagement? It’s yesterday’s news. Yes, it’s high time we gave up the ghost in this push to improve it and focus instead on building strong cultures and treating employees better.

Get that right and you won’t need to worry about engagement, because engagement will take care of itself.

For my money, culture is the name of the game. Get that right and all your other workplace issues will probably take care of themselves.
So given my focus, I was happily surprised to see that the latest Corner Office column in The New York Times was with Aron Ain, the CEO of Kronos, a company that makes workforce management software that automates scheduling and time/attendance functions.

Do you share the same values?

I have met Aron on a number of occasions, and I have also served on the Kronos Workplace Institute advisory board for a number of years, so I know Aron to be a thoughtful and caring guy, particularly when it comes to workplace issues. That's why it was no big surprise to me when I read what he had this to say to The Times Adam Bryant when he asked him, " How do you hire?"
I view my role as the keeper of the culture, and so I spend my time in a relaxed way getting to know the person. If, for example, they know someone I know professionally, I’ll say, “Let’s compare notes on that person. What’s your take?” And I’ll listen for whether they judge that person the same way I do, and whether we share the same values.
I’ll also ask about their families, about work-life balance, about the successes that they’ve had, both personally and professionally. I want to hear how they like to work, and the expectations they have of the people who work for them.

Being a good manager is really, really difficult

I've heard CEOs talk about this in the past. Yes, they need to be the "keeper of the culture," and to make sure that everyone in the organization -- from interviewees to the most senior and long-tenured employees -- reflect those cultural values in their work every day.
When CEOs focus on getting culture right, the entire organization benefits. That has been my experience, and the longer I'm around workplace issues, the more I think that culture is the one "must have" value that needs to follow from the top down all the way through the organization.
Aron Ain has a lot more good things to say if you take the time to read The New York Times' article, and here's one more snippet about leadership and management lessons he's learned:
I think managing and leading people is a privilege. And I don’t think we always understand the impact that we have as managers on the people on our teams. I talk to our managers all the time about this. Do you really understand the impact you have? And if you really understand the impact, then how do your actions reflect that you understand that?
I believe that people would rather have a lousy job working for a great person than a great job working for a bad manager. And I believe very strongly that the single largest component of a business that adds to shareholder value is great management, and the single largest destroyer of shareholder value is bad management.
Now, being a good manager is really, really difficult. And the sooner people who are managers recognize that, the sooner they’ll start being a good manager. It takes unbelievable courage to be a good manager. It is hard to have difficult conversations with people when they’re not doing well. Who likes to do that? That takes courage. You can’t slide out of the way and hope it’s going to take care of itself.

It all starts at the top

My take: Aron Ain is right -- being a good manager is really, really difficult. But, as important as management is (it's just below culture in my book), way too many organizations don't seem to be terribly focused on it.
This is a another story for another day, but in my view, we have an epidemic of terribly bad management in this country, and it is destroying American businesses everywhere. Far too many leaders and managers are short-sighted in their approach and far more worried about what is in it for them than in building a great organization that is good for everyone, customers included.
Culture is the starting point. if you get that right, everything else flows out of it.
And, it helps if you have a CEO who sees their role as being "keeper of the culture." When you have that, everything else about the business is bound to be better.
Editor’s note:  Checkster fuels the Talent Insider blog, and it can help you find out a lot more about job candidates with the Reference Checkup tool, and can help you better evaluate candidates and compare what your interviewers learn with the Interview Checkup.