Company Culture: Expectation vs. Reality

It’s difficult to spend time in the corporate world without hearing about an organization’s culture or an HR department’s efforts to find the right cultural fit when filling a job vacancy. That isn’t a coincidence. Company culture is a hot topic in the corporate world and a lot of importance is being placed on fostering the right type of environment. 

For organizations, establishing a winning corporate culture is a delicate balance. Get the formula right, and employees happily work together, innovate, and help the organization grow. Top talent is also attracted to organizations known for their positive culture and is likely to remain there for a longer period of time. Companies such as REI, Twitter, and Google are great examples of this positive company culture in action.  

Get it wrong, however, and it can threaten the very fabric of an organization. Researchers looked at attrition rates during the Great Resignation and found that toxic work culture is more than 10 times more powerful than compensation. 

The telltale signs of a toxic culture are similar in organizations across industries, regardless of size. These signs tend to be characterized by high turnover, employees not aligned with (or aware of) the company’s goals, and unhealthy competition between internal teams - just to name a few. 

It is for these reasons that expectations of company culture are very high. Company leaders expect tremendous benefits from developing a solid culture, but the reality often falls short. There are a few critical reasons for this. 

The first is a lack of commitment from leadership. In the past, the responsibility for managing the culture fell to the HR department. While that may have worked to some degree before the pandemic, now company culture is certainly the responsibility of every employee. 

Senior leaders play an essential role in establishing the company’s values, setting objectives tied to the bottom line, modeling the appropriate behavior to all employees, and ensuring that everyone is accountable. 

However, when employees go about their day-to-day responsibilities, they interact with peers or direct managers, not senior leaders. Therefore it is up to every employee to commit to the culture.

The second is not tying company culture to the business strategy. This is significant because employees today need to feel empowered to put their energy and talent to use in support of the bottom line. Additionally, without a tie to the bottom line, employees won’t see how the culture aligns with their daily responsibilities and ultimately abandon it. 

Former chairman and CEO of electronic giant Best Buy Hubert Joly put this idea into perspective when he wrote that, “magic happens when purpose, strategy, and culture are tightly connected and aligned, reinforcing each other.” 

The third and most critical reason is a lack of authenticity or uniqueness. If the company culture is defined in terms that are too vague or common, employees will not be able to identify with it. Indeed, it is what sets companies apart that makes it great and also why a genuine company culture can’t be replicated. As UC Berkeley’s Chief Innovation & Entrepreneurship Officer Rich Lyons said, great company culture must be “true, valued and different.” 

HR departments must still remain an important first line of defense in protecting and reinforcing the company’s culture. During the hiring process, HR teams are identifying candidates who appear to fit in well with the organization’s culture. They are also displaying the culture externally to applicants and as they interact with them.

Additionally, HR professionals are crucial to ensuring that employees are treated fairly and in identifying cultural issues that may contribute to a rise in resignations or difficulties in attracting talent with the desired skills. It can’t be underestimated how valuable the HR department’s insight is into the “heart and soul” of an organization.

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How do you define company culture?

As many companies reexamine their company culture and make adjustments to retain and attract top talent, let’s take a moment to look at how it is defined. When we refer to a company’s culture, we are talking about how an organization’s employees behave, what they believe, and the overall day-to-day experience of working there. 

In the past, many employers assumed that this could be reflected in the perks offered to employees (e.g., snacks in the kitchen, dry cleaning service, or a pool table in the break room). However, perks should not be mistaken for culture. Perks do not reflect how employees treat each other. It merely represents some of the corporate values.   

Since the pandemic, employee expectations of company culture have changed dramatically. As Mark Lobosco, LinkedIn’s VP of Talent Solutions, explains, “company culture has a watershed moment that’s redefining the relationship between employers and employees.” 

With professionals still willing to leave their current roles in favor of jobs where employers care about their well-being and allow them the flexibility to balance work and personal responsibilities, employers must review their policies and existing culture quickly to retain talent amidst the continuing Great Resignation. 

RELATED: The Missing Puzzle to the Recruitment System: Placing the Right Cultural Fit in the Workplace 

Why is hiring the right cultural fit important?

With professionals putting greater thought and effort into the company culture as they assess job opportunities, employers must ensure that they are presenting a workplace environment that candidates will want to join. 

There are three significant benefits that make focusing on culture worthwhile for organizations. The first is the amount of time and resources that employers save when the right candidates are hired during the interview process.

Adopting a powerful applicant tracking solution (ATS) can help HR teams quickly identify qualified candidates so that they can focus on building relationships and assessing how each person may fit into the company culture. When there aren’t lengthy and recurring vacancies, the employees who remain are not overworked or stretched too thin. Managing employees’ workload to ensure that they aren’t overburdened contributes to greater overall happiness in their role, which may lead people to remain for a longer period. 

Solid company culture is also reflected in how the organization is represented externally. For example, Uber in 2017 and Amazon’s current conundrum have shown how a company’s reputation can take a hit when negative stories about toxic culture and workplace environments become mainstream news.

Click here to watch the latest episode of All-In Recruitment and keep up with the latest recruitment trends. 

How can companies establish and support a positive company culture

Employers that are motivated to review the company culture may find that it is solid and they are already creating an environment where employees are engaged and motivated. 

For employers who find that there is work to be done to change the culture, the first step is often to obtain management consensus around how the company should be working and what employees should be focusing their attention on. 

Just as it sounds, it isn’t quite so much of an immediate culture shift, so much as it is a strategic one. Former CEO of Becton Dickinson Vince Forlenza said that “Culture gets changed by doing real work in line with the new strategy, a new governance model, business processes, or performance management systems.” 

Company cultures also flourish when employers take the time to get employees on board with a change in direction. Obtaining their insight on what they perceive the company culture to be is essential for creating something authentic - and that resonates with them. 

Once the cultural attributes have been agreed upon, then it will be crucial to communicate frequently about the company’s mission, and values will help to reinforce the intended culture.

During the hiring process, HR teams today are required to strike a balance between filling a vacancy quickly and taking the time to identify the most suitable candidate. That isn’t just the person who is the most qualified on paper. It also means finding candidates who will align with - and add to - the company culture. 

With the rise in popularity of virtual hiring, it has become even harder to hone in on a candidate’s personality. In North America, 70% of talent professionals think virtual recruiting will be the new standard in the post-pandemic job market. That means HR teams will need to think outside the box when it comes to conveying the company culture as well as determining which candidates will flourish in your unique environment.

HR teams can look beyond the basic qualifications of a job vacancy to unearth their soft skills and personality traits during the interview process. Personality testing has emerged as a step in the interview process to help hiring teams gain a better understanding of candidates. Learn more about the types of personality tests that HR departments are using in the hiring process and what they can help them understand about candidates.

With a modern ATS solution, HR teams can utilize AI to quickly identify the most qualified applicants in their database. It also empowers recruitment professionals to integrate tests and other valuable steps into the process to simplify the hiring process and ensure that they can devote their time to getting to know the candidates.


Click here to see how Manatal’s ATS can help you promote positive company culture. 

Start a 14-day free trial of Manatal’s powerful ATS to support an efficient recruitment process that can help the company’s culture shine through during the interview process.

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