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March 6, 2017

Recruiting on Culture Fit

Why do some appointments not work out? Here are some tips to make sure that you express your organisation's culture when hiring.

Recruiting on Culture Fit

It is rare that unsuccessful placements are due to the poor performance of candidates. It does happen but generally interviews and track record give a good indicator of how competent someone will be in the role, assuming the interviewer knows their stuff. Much more frequently there is problem with the gap between expectations and reality when it comes to management style and culture fit. And it tends to be the fundraiser who suffers in silence and the manager doesn't know there is a problem until the fundraiser announces they are leaving.

The time I spent recruiting senior fundraisers and running a charity recruitment company gave me the opportunity to analyse what makes a successful appointment and why things sometimes go wrong.

(Scroll to the foot of the article to download "Leading Successful Fundraising Teams-Part 4 Recruitment".)

When I spoke to the recruiting managers about what had gone wrong I heard things like.

. They couldn't keep up with the pace
. Their expectations of the organisation were too high
. They weren't formal enough when dealing with Trustees
. They didn't seem to get on with their fellow team members/they weren't a team player
. I'm not sure how they are spending their time
. They were too direct with their colleagues
. They spent too much time chatting and distracting the team
. They weren't very good at working on their own

When I spoke to the fundraisers who had left jobs or were unhappy in their roles I heard things like.

. My boss micro-manages me and I feel like I am not trusted to do a good job
. I can't get any time/decisions/input from my manager - it feels like my work is not a priority
. There is huge pressure on me to get results and work long hours and I feel stressed
. I don't feel like part of a team and it is lonely
. No-one ever makes a decision so we don't make any progress
. We don't have enough resources
. People don't talk to each other and we don't feel like a team
. The office is too noisy and I can't get my work done
. The charity isn't professional enough
. It feels like working for a company, not a cause

As you'll see from the comments above there is no "right" culture - different people excel in different environments. And because the culture of a charity is unlikely to change, you need to recruit people who will thrive in your culture or who are able to adapt to fit in within their environment.

There's a chapter in this book on creating your team's culture but you still need to operate successfully within your organisation's overall culture and working environment. And before you can recruit to fit your culture, you need to be able to define your culture.

Defining your culture

Firstly it is important to point out that you're not looking to recruit clones of your existing team and getting cultural fit right works alongside diversity and equal opportunities, not against it. You're looking for a diverse range of people, but they all need to thrive within your charity.

There are some useful ways to capture and articulate your organisation's culture. The first place to start is your charity's values. Whilst sometimes values can feel quite generic, it is possible to create values that truly sum up a culture. For example, formal cultures are less likely to use brave, trust and innovation as their values.

The best values have behaviours linked to them. Behaviours allow you to articulate what the values mean to your organisation and provide a really useful practical tool that can be integrated into interviews and performance management.

You can also create a description of what it is like to work within your team that could be used as part of your candidate pack. Done well (and with an appealing culture) this can significantly increase the number of suitable candidates you attract for your vacancy.

You could ask your team to describe what it is like working for your organisation. I've created videos in the past and that works well because you can see that people are genuinely happy to be part of the team but some quotes would also work.

Setting expectations

Apparently when you're dating, you spend the first 6 months projecting a version of your ideal partner onto them, without really seeing the real person. You also do your best to conform to the ideal that is being placed on you. Eventually however the cracks appear in your perfect image of someone as the real them shows up and you're both a bit disappointed (or delighted if they turn out to be even better than your projection).

Interviewing isn't entirely dissimilar to dating in this respect. Candidates are projecting their expectations around culture onto the job and interviewers are making assumptions about how a candidate would approach certain situations without actually asking them about it. This is why a really important part of any interview process is to get really clear on both the culture of the organisation and the culture that would suit the candidate.

These are some areas to specifically cover in interviews.

Size of organisation - whilst some people can change their behaviour and expectations to suit any organisation, most people tend to be best suited to a certain size organisation. In particular, people moving from large charities to smaller charities struggle with the lack of resources and processes, whilst people moving into larger charities often feel a bit anonymous, having been used to everyone knowing their name. It is worth being clear on expectations when you're talking to candidates moving from a very different sized organisation.

Formality and hierarchy - be sure to articulate whether there are formal elements to the way your charity works and whether it is hierarchical or more flat in structure. At some charities your ideas have value whatever level you are at, at others you practically bow when you see the CEO. Everyone is formal at interview so interviews are not great reflection of how well someone operates within a formal environment.

How people interact with each other - if you have a panel for the interviews, how you speak to each other can give an indication of your culture. The same goes for meeting the team, which can be a useful part of the process particularly if you're recruiting a manager or head of a team.

Drive and ambition expectations - if you're looking for someone who is going to grow income significantly, be sure to articulate that. If everyone works long hours and volunteers at weekends that is important information to share. If you're looking for someone to hold the ship steady and not change things up too much, let your candidates know that.

Independence versus collaboration - some organisations like people who work very independently, whilst in others being too independent makes people feel that you are not a team player. Give examples of when you would expect people to work alone and what sort of things you work on together as a team. I once worked somewhere where everyone in the (small) organisation was involved in every decision which brought a different quality of thinking to decisions but drove me crazy as I make decisions quickly. There was nothing wrong with how they made decisions but I wasn't a good fit for that organisation.

Management style - this is slightly distinct from culture but it is always good to share your management style (giving examples), ask what style of management brings out the best in candidates and when recruiting managers check that their approach would work with your team and organisation.

Office environment - let candidates see where they might be working. You want them to be able to picture themselves working there and you don't want them to turn up on day one and feel deflated because it doesn't meet their expectations. If you have old computers and crowded desks, find someone who is used to that and not someone who only feels valued with great tech and a lovely environment.

About the author

Carla Miller is a coach, consultant and facilitator, who works with charities and companies to create growth and develop happy, high-performing teams.


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