3 Characteristics to Strengthen Your Organizational Culture

Have you ever tried to work with a fish? To reward our two oldest kids for good behavior, my wife and I recently agreed to buy them each a fish. But finding the right fish proved to be a challenge. We knew our kids weren’t prepared to handle any fish that required a lot of maintenance and care, but we didn’t want to flush goldfish down the toilet in a week or so. So, we eventually decided on betta fish. Of course, we then had to get two separate fish tanks since betta fish just kill each other if given the chance.

However, this proved to be a blessing in disguise since we later realized there was no way our daughter and son were going to agree on the same fish tank and its accompanying decor—their temperaments are very similar to betta fish in that way. The whole experience reminded me that building a cohesive team is hard. Whether it’s pet fish or a work team or even (perhaps especially?) a family team—it can be hard to get a group to work well together and build each other up. But it is possible. Here are three characteristics we look for in new hires that strengthen our culture (and will strengthen yours, as well):

1. They are good stewards. In the business world, the term “stewardship” more commonly refers to the responsibility we all have to take care of the planet. To be sure, you want people who do this. But I’m talking about people who take responsibility to care in a general sense.

You want employees who care about the quality of their work. They care for people under their influence. They strive to make every destination a little better than it was before they came. And they lead from where they are. These are the types of stewards you should be looking to find.

To locate them in the interviewing process, look to see if they improved their previous organizations. No matter how trivial their former assignments have been, look to see if they took pride in the work they did. Look to see how they felt about their culture—and whether they tried to improve it. If they did these things, you might have a keeper.

2. They want fulfillment, not credit. Humility is an important characteristic to look for in an employee who will help your culture grow in the right direction. But it can be hard to correctly identify humble people since humble people generally don’t claim to be such. And it’s perfectly understandable for somebody interviewing for a job to point out all their accomplishments. So, identify candidates who seek fulfillment, not credit.

Don’t expect candidates to totally shy away from taking some credit for prior successes, but look further to figure out how they really feel. Gauge how much satisfaction candidates get out of the processes that led them to their successes. Are they always striving to be better? Look to see how much they enjoyed the learning processes involved in their previous work. Do they look at their failures positively or negatively? Because if they look at them positively, it’s a good sign they’re humble learners.

Does the candidate give credit to others who have helped them along the way? And if they do, do they talk as if others’ contributions diminished their own work in some way? Are they using any we’s or mostly just me’s? The answers to these questions will help you determine if a candidate will be able to adjust to their role and whether they’ll be somebody who is a good team player (or not).

3. They value relationships. How many times have you heard people in business say their organization is like a family? When this statement rings true, it’s usually because members of the organization genuinely care about each other as people—and then prove it. They help each other out, even when their assistance goes beyond what is required of them. And they do this not to get ahead or save face but because it’s the right thing to do.

You want people who personify this ideal. You want to hire people who have developed lasting relationships with those in their previous jobs. Ideally, when you call references, these people will be fond of the candidate—not just as a colleague, but also as a friend. They may even love them as—again—a family member would. And they’ll certainly respect them. To figure this out, dig deep. Don’t be afraid to ask their references a few “and what else?” questions.

All of this isn’t to say that you can only hire extroverts with lots of friends. But if you want people who will strengthen your culture, you’re looking for those who will care about the people they work alongside. They will give sincere praise and recognition where it is due. They will be open and reach out to coworkers who are struggling. And they will always seek to build others up, not tear them down; this is even (perhaps especially?) true of those they might be competing with for a promotion or recognition. Because the people you need value relationships over almost everything else.

Cultures grow whether you mean for them to or not. And it’s people who help shape your culture. Are you going to hire betta fish keen on destroying those around them—or for that matter, children who simply can’t agree on things as trivial as fish tanks? Or are you going to hire people who make those around them better? Because employees who are good stewards, seek fulfillment, and value relationships are far more likely to help your culture grow in the kind of direction that will lead to long-term prosperity—prosperity for people, individually, and organizations as a whole.