Hiring for Culture – The Case for Adaptability

FEARED OR LOVED

Last year a newly hired mid-level leader told me how he was frustrated with our organization along with, “I’m going to make some pretty big changes here, you wait and see.”  I’ve heard that before and warned him that his ideas might be good, but the key is how you implement them in our current culture.  He scoffed at me.  He was destined, in his mind, to (as my father would say) do wonders and shit blunders.  A year later his frustration is a little higher and the organization hasn’t changed in the least as a result of his efforts.  He thrust his bold and innovative ideas at our organization and found that his way of working didn’t mesh with how we work.  The root issue isn’t that we have problems as an organization…it’s that we hired someone that can’t adapt enough to our culture in order to influence change.

Corporate culture trumps individual leaders who desire to change.  It is the nature of the Corporate Overlords (All hail our Overlords!) to squash anything that might rock the proverbial boat.  Company culture is a big thing, lumbering, highly resistant to attacks and cries for transformation.  A deeply entrenched culture can easily smother and overpower the most ardent crusader seeking to change it.  People that come in with objectives of changing the company into something else often are found years later in a corner cubicle, drooling, rocking back and forth, sticky notes all over them and the floor, muttering to themselves.

When people hire they tend to look at experience and technical skills.  The unconsciously weigh the personality of the candidate as well.  In reality they need to explore a candidate’s adaptability.  Will this person be able to work in the culture of the organization – or will they try and make the culture change?

Adaptability is important with anyone coming in, yet most interviewers barely touch upon it.  They tend to see individuals that talk about driving cultural change as “go-getters.”  In reality, most people of this ilk end up bitter and disappointed or they simply pack up and move on, claiming, “My previous employer’s company was unwilling to adjust to my ideas.”

So what do you ask during an interview to root out a candidate’s willingness to adapt?  Here’s some samples:

  • Tell me about a time when you had a good idea but there was resistance – how did you overcome that resistance?
  • What kind of support do you expect from leadership or sponsors in making changes?
  • Having good ideas is important – tell me about how you successfully implemented changes at your previous employer.
  • How would you go about mapping stakeholders in our company in order to drive change?
  • Sometimes there are organizational barriers that prevent change.  Talk to me about how you overcame some barrier in the culture of your previous employer.
  • In your mind, what is the best way to deal with a culture that might not be ready for your ideas?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you had to bring together a lot of diverse stakeholders and get them on the same page?  How (exactly) did you do it?  What were some of the challenges you faced?
  • What role do you think this position has when it comes to our company’s culture?
  • Tell me what you think our organization’s culture is? (This one is very revealing, it tells you their preconceived notions should you hire them.)
  • How would you go about adapting what you did at your current employer to our unique environment here?

Champions that think they can inflict change to any organization’s culture can be powerful, but only if they can implement their changes.  What questions would you recommend adding to this interview list?

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