Your Corporate Culture is Key to Success

The following is an excerpt from a column on workplace culture best practices that Kristina Nakanishi, Vibrant’s vice president of human resources, recently wrote for top tech site Dice.com

“So what’s it like to work here?”

Now there’s a question I hear at least a few times a week. Simple as it sounds, figuring out how to answer can be pretty tough. But answering it well — in other words, being able to define your company’s culture on the spot — is among the most critical functions of the HR team.

Whether you’re managing a global organisation or an early-stage start up, defining your culture requires more than the occasional swag distribution. Understanding and recruiting to your culture is key to keeping your organisation and your employees committed, focused and productive.

What Is Culture?

A company’s culture describes the daily grind, sure, but it’s also about employees’ attitudes toward their company, and their perceptions of the attitudes the company holds toward them. Culture also encompasses the stories the company tells about itself — the ones that come up, year after year, about its origins, traditions, big ideas and big personalities.

When you define your culture, you define what makes your company and your people tick.

Defining Your Culture

Want to jump-start your company’s conversation about culture? Here are a few questions to get you going:

  1. What’s your company’s mission?
  2. What core values do people share within your organisation? What makes certain people shine (or not)?
  3. Think about the individuals who haven’t thrived in your organisation. What competencies or qualities did they lack?
  4. What are the key annual events or recognition opportunities for employees? What sort of response do they inspire?
  5. What makes your company unique in your industry? Is it your people? Your product? Your process?

Answer these, and you’ve got at least a rudimentary definition of your culture. This is the stuff that corporate objectives, communications and conversations are made of.

Recruiting to the Culture

To grow a company successfully, recruiting efforts need to be synced to its culture. After all, employees who don’t share the same priorities and values as their colleagues probably won’t succeed (or foster success) over the long term. So it’s critical to build a “cultural-fit analysis” into the hiring process.

At Vibrant, we take a “competencies-based” approach to hiring, which looks at all of a candidate’s strengths and development areas in addition to experience. We all know that when someone doesn’t thrive in a given role, it’s generally not because they’re lacking in skills. More often, it’s poor communication skills or attention to detail: These are competencies.

We’ve defined core competencies that are critical to every function at the company. When we set out to recruit a new employee, our recruiting team works with hiring managers to prioritise competencies and help us home in on the most promising candidates. We’re never going to find the perfect (or “unicorn”) candidate, but focusing on these priority competencies helps set realistic expectations and get the right person staffed as efficiently as possible.

This approach carries through to the interview process, too. Asking behavioural rather than situational questions allows a candidate’s real competencies to shine through. If a candidate truly possesses the qualities you’re looking for — whether leadership skills or an entrepreneurial personality — you’ll find evidence of these turning up time and again. Focusing on competencies also helps keep the conversation on track when the time comes to finalise hiring decisions.

So why does culture matter? Because if you can’t define it, you can’t maintain it. And as HR professionals, it’s our job to do just that. By understanding our culture and helping our colleagues do the same, we can help recruit and hire the right people to move our businesses ahead toward a successful future.

About Kristina Nakanishi
Kristina Nakanishi is VP of Human Resources for Vibrant Media, the leader in contextual display advertising, which was founded in 2000. As Vibrant has experienced tremendous growth over the past five years, Kristina’s team has helped increase employee headcount 260%. Kristina splits her time between her hometown of San Francisco, CA, and New York City, where Vibrant is headquartered.

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