HR and Recruiting: Growing With Culture

In biology, the centralized nervous system is one of the hallmarks of an advanced organism. It coordinates essential functions like heartbeat, reflex, and growth so effortlessly that we don’t even have to think about them. This frees us to succeed at more than just basic survival, giving us space to discover our purpose, forge new relationships, and build something more than ourselves.

In this four-part series, BambooHR explores how HR serves as the central nervous system for your organization, working with finance, management, recruiting, and marketing to help you define your goals, strengthen your teamwork and collaboration, and succeed at your mission. In our previous posts, we explored how HR and finance and HR and management need to work automatically and seamlessly to keep an organization running. Today we discuss HR’s relationship with an organization’s recruiting efforts.

Think back to when you were a young teenager. There are some things you may or may not remember, but you almost certainly remember your size compared to other kids your age.

You probably remember feeling either shorter or taller than the other kids when you lined up for picking teams. You were acutely aware when standing next to the kid who suddenly looked like they could be in high school, or perhaps you were startled to see your favorite shirt was literally ripping at the seams thanks to your newfound bulk. Unless you were one of those rare people who went through puberty without a glitch, you also probably remember thinking your proportions were just all wrong. Maybe your feet were suddenly way too big and you were tripping everywhere you went, or perhaps your face suddenly began a metamorphosis of sorts as if to hide your true identity. For me, it was the nose, which seemed to take over the entirety of my face overnight. “Wait—is Pinocchio a true story?! What lies have I been telling and how could they possibly be this bad?!”

Regardless, all around you was an interactive display of uncontrollable expansion, a cataclysm of untethered growth. When it comes to growth, the central nervous system plays a couple of roles. The pituitary gland, located right under your brain, sends out a constant stream of hormones—chemicals that pervade your body through your bloodstream and change how your cells act and interact. This system of interactions is called the endocrine system and it influences your metabolism and your wake/sleep cycles, among other things. Most importantly, this system helps keep your cell growth in balance.

The endocrine system goes into overdrive during our teenage years, and just like it is challenging for kids to become adults, it can be very difficult for a rapidly growing organization to endure its growing pains. But when done right, the end result is a much greater capacity. And while genetics places restrictions on a teenager’s capacity for growth, there are few limits to how your organization can grow. But so much of how you grow depends on your culture.

Culture’s Role in Growth

In our analogy, HR’s influence on culture is a lot like the pituitary gland’s influence on the body as a whole. You can’t change it overnight, but as you flood your organization with messages and instruction about your mission and values, then you can grow into something new over time.

You really can’t rush this process. Sure, you can try, but the results won’t be nearly as permanent as you’d hoped. Think of what illegal steroids can do to the body: uncontrollable hormones, rampant back acne, and a slew of other unintended side effects. Similarly, hiring people who don’t fit your culture or forcing an unauthentic culture onto your organization can have gnarly ramifications.

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Your body has two types of hormones. You have situational ones, like adrenaline and cortisol, that only activate during specific situations like your fight or flight response, and more long-term ones like human growth hormone that act slowly over months and years. In comparison, some organizations take a situational approach to culture. When asked about culture, they respond by pointing out their ping pong tables, Xbox rooms, nap pods, and the other peripheral perks they’ve added in an attempt to stimulate “culture.”

Not to say these are bad things (they aren’t), but as fun as perks can be they do very little to influence—and therefore aren’t good indicators of—an organization’s culture. Underneath the perks, there’s a cultural base that matters much more than the extras on the surface, and there’s a real risk in conflating the two. If your recruiting efforts center around peripheral perks rather than your underlying culture, you run the risk of hiring people who want to join your company for the wrong reasons.

Values as Blueprints

At BambooHR, we express our culture with seven core values, and like a genetic blueprint, they influence everything that we do. Our HR and management teams constantly emphasize these values, and those constant reminders change how we make decisions, how we operate, and who we hire. All of these value-based actions have led us to a different place over time than where we would have gone had we merely relied on short-term culture efforts.

One of our newest teammates has a great story to illustrate the difference between short-term and long-term application of values: His previous CEO called the company together and gave a nice presentation about their new values program. He concluded the presentation by saying, “You know, I hope you like our new values. It cost our PR firm $10,000 to put them together.” Ouch.

This probably wasn’t a wise level of honesty, if the company wanted the values to come across as sincere. But even without these kinds of admissions, employees know what values your organization truly lives by. They know what is expected of them, and they know when you’re being sincere or not. Employees know whether using time off is encouraged or frowned upon. They learn how to interact with managers and co-workers, whether that involves close collaboration or cutthroat competition. And here’s the kicker: By extension, recruits know these things as well. Long gone are the days when top employee prospects simply take the recruiter’s word for it and forgo a careful examination of workplace reviews to determine a company’s real culture.

The Value of Real Culture

Cultural benefits and drawbacks come from this real culture, not from posters and affirmations HR puts on the wall or well-tuned recruiting pitches. If you want the benefits a good culture provides—like the added productivity and extra profits engaged employees deliver, or the top talent a strong cultural reputation attracts—you’ll have to make a consistent, concerted effort to define your values. After you define them, it will take even more effort to live by your values, ensure they’re integrated into your policies and procedures, and educate employees about them again and again. And again.

You have to live by your values every single day in everything you do. That has to start from the top leadership and continue down to teaching the newest hire. And who usually meets with new hires on their first day? HR.

Real culture matters because businesses don’t create value; people do. Creating a culture that recognizes and engages your people adds up to real value for your organization. Remember what the Corporate Leadership Council claims: Organizations with engaged employees grow profits as much as three times faster than their competitors, and highly engaged employees are 87 percent less likely to leave their employers. High retention means more than just keeping good people and positive morale; SHRM estimates that replacing an employee can cost anywhere from 16 to 213 percent of their annual salary.

Engagement matters, recruiting culture fits matters, and HR needs to be at the forefront of these efforts. Not just with perks that may distract employees, but also with a culture that places true value on developing great employees and giving them a great place to work.

Standing Out to Recruits

Culture is the message that will stand out in today’s tight recruiting market, where quality of life matters more than ever before. With the rise of workplace review sites and social media, new candidates don’t just have to take our recruiters’ word for it. And, let’s face it, if someone writes, “The best thing about working there is the ice machine,” it’s not going to help in your recruiting efforts unless your criteria for qualified employees somehow includes truly parched job seekers.

Like a teenager becoming a mature adult, it takes time for an organization to fully develop the values that define its culture. It takes effort to hire people who fit within that culture and to train recruiting staff and hiring managers to look for the right culture fits. It takes consistent performance to help employees adopt your culture. But taking this time helps you create an organization that grows from good to great. If you can create, integrate, maintain, and champion great culture within your organization, you will rise to the top of the list of potential employers and top talent will want to join your team. And that’s a good thing, right?

HR helps companies grow the right way building the right culture.