1733e849cb872787f34d6aa86af3a7c1We all understand the inherent importance, and strategic value, of company culture, particularly as relates to recruiting and retention; talking about the inherent importance this amorphous, ambiguous and largely subjective catch-all has become reduced to a tired corporate cliche, and an even more maudlin talent acquisition aphorism.

Company culture, supposedly the end-all be-all of recruitment marketing and employer branding, the single most critical competitive differentiator when it comes to attracting and hiring top talent, is one concept we all agree is important.

The problem is that as much as recruiting and HR professionals talk about company culture, very few companies actually know how to define their company culture, much less screen and select candidates against it. “Culture fit” has become a ubiquitous hiring consideration in today’s world of work.

While it’s easy as it is to show some stock photos of “real employees” or add some flowery copy about values, mission or vision onto a company careers site, actually using culture as a filter to assess, screen and select candidates in any sort of meaningful, measurable way is far more difficult.

That said, learning to actually match company culture against a candidate’s career objectives and aspirations is one hiring consideration that’s well worth the effort for any recruiting organization.

There’s No Accounting for Culture.

company-culture-400x280-320x210A recent study by international assessment and development consultancy Cubiks reinforced the fact that while almost every recruiter acknowledges the importance of measuring cultural fit, a paucity actually know how to assess this fit during their hiring process.

According to the study, 80% of recruiters surveyed agree that culture is an important hiring consideration, but only 32% of those same recruiters actually considered it in their own talent acquisition initiatives. Talk about a culture gap.

So if we know culture counts in theory, then why are so many of us choosing (consciously or otherwise) to ignore it in recruiting practice?

When it comes to culture fit, turns out, ignorance is anything but bliss – in fact, ignoring company culture in the hiring process could be costing your business (and bottom line) big time. Consider the fact that according to a recent study from Gallup, a full 70% of Americans report they’re either not engaged or actively disengaged at work, equating to an estimated $550 billion annual cost to employers resulting from lost productivity.

Similar studies suggest that perceived culture fit is the most reliable indicator of employee satisfaction; in fact, fully 82% of employees who agreed with the statement, “I feel like I fit in with my coworkers and belong at my company” in a 2014 BLS survey also report alignment with their perception of their company’s culture and values.

These surveys suggest the existence of a direct correlation between cultural fit and employee performance; therefore, if you think about it, the only way to really hire the high potential, high performers we’re looking for is to consider cultural preferences during the hiring process.

From employer branding to interviewing, sussing out whether or not a candidate is a cultural fit can be crucial to your recruiting efficiency and efficacy today, and your workforce planning, employee retention and succession planning initiatives tomorrow.

You can always teach skills, but there’s really no training for cultural alignment. Fit happens.

But there are some things recruiters can watch for to make sure culture fit fits into their talent acquisition process. Here are some of the top considerations to remember when hiringb29a4134b05aa51fe8f2499b6c932131 candidates for culture.

Work, Life or Work-Life: Company Culture On the Clock.

As flexible working arrangements are becoming increasingly commonplace, work-life balance has become a key cultural consideration for screening candidates.

While some people may still crave the structure of going into an office during traditional business hours, others may want to work whenever they want, from wherever they want – or, most commonly, somewhere in between, like having the option to work from home when sick or getting to skip the commute one or two days a week.

In addition to being a strong cultural differentiator, flexible scheduling options not only lead to a happier workforce, but a healthier one as well.

A review of studies by the Cochrane Public Health Group suggests that the more control workers have over their schedules and the more choice employees have over their working hours and location, the less employees are likely to be late, absent or excused from work due to health related complaints.

In one case cited in the study, a company began offering employees the option to work from home one day every week, which actually reduced absenteeism by over 60% within the first quarter of this employer implementing a flexible scheduling option. Employees are less likely to take off time from work when they can work on their own time.

Moreover, the Cochrane Group report suggests that employees with control and choice over their own work schedules have much less stress, exercise more and tend to eat healthier meals and rate their overall quality life as “high” compared to their counterparts with a less flexible or more traditional work-life balance. Moreover, employees with flexible schedules report this arrangement allows them to dedicate time to important non-work related tasks, which, in turn, increases on-the-job productivity.

If your company has a strict schedule, or if you have opportunities for telecommuting or flexible hours, make sure you’re up front and transparent with candidates so you can make sure your culture aligns with their expectations.

Of course offering flexible work schedules might be a key competitive advantage for employers when it comes to attracting, engaging and hiring top talent – in fact, a 2014 study by global communications software and services company Unify found that 43% of workers would prefer flexible scheduling over a pay raise.

Time truly is money, which is why this might be just as important a consideration as compensation when it comes to closing candidates. Maybe your organization offers the option to telecommute on Fridays, or offer early leave days on Fridays in order to keep morale up.

Whatever the case may be, the more flexible you can be with worker schedules, the more flexible candidates will be when it comes to accepting an offer.

If you’re more of a traditional, 9-5 kind of employer, at least emphasize your managers’ willingness to work out individual scheduling needs, or else work with the candidate to understand what their scheduling requirements are and if those expectations can be feasibly accommodated.

If you can’t offer flexible scheduling, make sure to highlight things like PTO, company holidays or community service days that your company might offer as part of your total rewards package and give candidates something they can look forward to other than a daily commute to a place where you have to clock in and clock out.

If that’s your company, that’s cool. Just make sure candidates know what to expect – and whether or not there’s a culture fit when it comes to scheduling and work-life balance.

Dressed to Impress: The Sartorial Side of Company Culture.

wear shoesWhile hoodies, jeans and sneakers might have replaced sport coats, neckties and dress shoes as the dress code du jour at an increasing number of companies today, with casual Friday casually extending to our everyday attire and office sensibilities.

It turns out, however, that while high heels and staid, stuffy suits might not always be comfortable, dressing up at work can increase such outcomes as employee satisfaction, engagement and performance – proof that looking the part is half of the business battle.

If you look the part, there’s a better chance you’ll play the part, psychologically speaking. Think of it as a sort of “Professional Pygmalion Effect.”

A surprising study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, for example, found that when graduate students were asked to perform a random test while wearing a lab coat, they achieved universally better outcomes than the control group who conducted the same set of tests, only without wearing a lab coat.

Other studies show that factors like simply wearing glasses or carrying a briefcase can have a big impact on perceived credibility and trust in business situations. Instituting a dress code won’t inevitably increase productivity or performance; instead, these outcomes are improved only when employees are given the discretion to define “appropriate attire” on their own terms, instead of dictating what they are or aren’t allowed to wear.

Dress codes, in fact, while designed and implemented with the best of intentions, almost always lead to decreased employee productivity, satisfaction and engagement – study after study suggest there’s nothing most workers hate more than being told what they can and can’t wear at work.

This is why Google, consistently ranked as one of the Best Companies to Work For and renowned for its company culture, has famously disavowed employee dress codes, a pronouncement that has more or less set the precedent for ditching dress mandates throughout the tech industry, with companies like Apple, Box and Facebook following suit and encouraging potential hires to come as they are and find dress code Nirvana.

This trend isn’t limited to just tech, however; even established blue chip brands, like General Motors, have instituted more relaxed or less rigid employee dress codes; GM CEO Mary Barra says her decision to replace her company’s formerly complicated dress code policy with a simple, “dress appropriately,” was based on the need to empower individual managers and business units to execute leadership and reinforce culture within their teams.

Again, be very upfront about sharing any dress codes or employee appearance policies up front with candidates, and make sure to accentuate the rationale behind your guidelines (or lack thereof). If your policy is strict, offering the occasional respite in the form of the ubiquitous “casual Fridays” or even the ability to dress up in costumes for Halloween might be worth mentioning when presenting your culture to candidates and finding fit.

Stop, Collaborate and Listen: Work Styles & Company Culture.

corporate_coloring_book_1The pre-screening, interviewing and candidate selection process are inherently made to favor extroverts, with hiring managers often placing a premium on interpersonal communication and presentation over hard skills and practical experience.

For introverts, interviewing can be even more intimidating, exhausting and painful than it is for the rest of us.

This is why, when recruiting for culture fit, it’s so important to consider the various work styles and preferences unique to each candidate and how those align with the opportunity for which they’re being considered.

Recruiters need to remember that what work style works is probably relative, regardless of the consistency of your company culture.

For instance, you don’t need to be the smoothest talker to be a kick butt accountant, nor does an entry level hire need to have polished presentation skills or the ability to interface with executive leaders unless it’s absolutely required for the role.

But work works best when there are many work styles at work, writes author Susan Cain. In her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking,” Cain implores companies to consider and accommodate as many complimentary working styles as required to make sure employees have the best environment required to do their best work.

While trends like open seating, flat org charts and open door policies might be all the rage, these won’t necessarily help the nearly one third of American workers Cain reports self-identify as introverts produce the exceptional results expected of this massive pool of exceptional candidates who don’t adjust well to group settings or prefer a quiet work environment to a collaborative one.

When hiring for culture fit, it’s imperative for recruiters to determine what type of collaboration and office environment the candidate prefers, and how their work style aligns with your company culture.

In particular, screening candidates’ attitudes on collaboration can be an effective way to ensure cultural alignment; for instance, if you’re the kind of company that schedules meetings to schedule more meetings, you probably want to make sure that candidate is cool with that. Similarly, if you’re the kind of company that loves assigning team based projects, you probably want to make sure that your next hire isn’t some sort of lone wolf or sociopath, and that they’re willing to work along (and play along) with others.

Because even if the fit isn’t perfect, culture really all comes down to having the right style. So, it’s really kind of simple: Recruiters, don’t just look. Look good.

No matter what your style might be, it’s important to remember that in recruiting, culture fit is one of those fundamentals that will never go out of fashion.

By Matt Charney

Matt serves as Chief Content Officer and Global Thought Leadership Head for Allegis Global Solutions and is a partner for RecruitingDaily the industry leading online publication for Recruiting and HR Tech. With a unique background that includes HR, blogging and social media, Matt Charney is a key influencer in recruiting and a self-described “kick-butt marketing and communications professional.”