Look for attitude first. You must find people who will live the company principles on a daily basis.
Make sure that possible recruits spend time with their team doing the work to get a real sense of what it will be like.
Be totally honest about the workplace. It is a waste of time to persuade people and take the time to train them if they are unlikely to stay.
Look for potential - what job will they do in three years' time?
Provide a thorough induction that helps newcomers understand the job and the culture.
Ask them to give you feedback on how well you live the guiding principles. Are you doing what you say you do? Act on their feedback.
Recruitment is a major investment - why risk taking on someone who will leave within the first six months so you have to begin all over again? Effective recruitment contributes to high retention, which is good for the budget and the knowledge and experience base in the company.
Jo is an area leader in Flight Centre with responsibility for a number of teams in the London region. When interviewing, she looks for energy and passion, a positive attitude to the work and a spark that leads her to believe the person will fit the fun culture. Together with her colleagues she puts each person through seven to ten days of selection.
Sonal went through the process and confirms how tough it is, but each step conveyed a little more about the company and encouraged her to keep going. The final stage was an‘in-store assessment day' (ISA), when she was invited in to spend a day with her would-be team. She sat alongside her future colleagues, seeing what the job involved, how hard the work was, and learned something of the experience of working with the public. Jo looked for how she interacted with the team, watched how much she enjoyed herself, and tried to gauge whether Sonal could maintain her energy level. She wanted to be sure that Sonal really wanted the job, so she answered each question really honestly, never once pulling her punches. ‘We have to recruit the right people, and we will only do that if we are totally honest.'
Work at FC can sound really appealing when you hear about the buzz nights, awards, cheap travel and great bonuses. So it is vital that applicants get a taste of the tough day-to-day work. By 5 pm, Sonal had got the message. In fact, she was totally convinced she wanted the job. The team were equally positive, and she is now coming to the end of her first year.
At the outset, Jo herself was less sure and left FC after her first nine months in the job. She worked in similar companies and undertook some travel of her own. Eventually, the penny dropped and she realised she would rather be at FC. She called ‘Boxer' (Gary Hogan, MD) direct and asked if there was a job for her. ‘I thought you'd never ask,' was his immediate reply, reflecting his determination never to close the door on a good employee.
The detailed results delivered at the end of each week provide a record of performance, so it is easy to see how well a person worked in the past. The company will not take back an ex-colleague who had difficulty with the job, but someone who succeeded and enjoyed the pace is welcomed back with open arms.
Remember: you are not just filling a position, you are building the future of your company. Mistakes made now impact on succession plans, never mind seeing those you train and nurture walk out of the door.
Check out your record to date. How effective are you in finding a) the right people for the job, and b) people you can develop?
For your next recruit, consider what you need for this job and the future. Identify what your needs will be in three years: what talent must you train now to fill that gap? Interview with this in mind.
How much information do you give applicants about the company? Ask new colleagues what else they would like to have been told about the job.
Include members of the relevant team in the selection process. Talk with them about what they believe the team needs and ask how they will spot it. Make sure that those who will be with the new person day to day feel involved.
Seek feedback from new colleagues, their colleagues and their boss. What could have been done better? How might the process be improved?
If you want to maintain a great culture, employ people who will live the company principles. This begins with the initial interview, giving people an experience of how the company works, allowing them to assess whether they can work happily in this environment, and starting the process of alignment.
The message about principles has to be consistent and ongoing, beginning at first contact. Even at interview, prospective colleagues must be in no doubt about what is important. If they believe in different things, better to find out now than deal with the consequences at a later stage. Companies have a variety of ways of getting the message across, but it is always a rigorous process to separate the serious from the sightseers.
You must really want a job at St Luke's Advertising Agency - the interview process is definitely not for the faint- hearted. One shareholder (colleague) was drawn to the informality that came across from the website, so she contacted them direct. Although no job was available at the time, they invited her to visit. She went for an informal interview that was to become the first of many, meeting in all 12 different people for individual conversations. Topics ranged from work and hobbies to what risk she is most proud to have taken. It seems that this was the clincher. On holiday in Spain she and her friends cycled around a tight bend and spotted a young man standing on the side of a cliff. Within seconds, to their horror, he had jumped. She approached the edge, fearing the worst, only to see him a very long way down in a deep lagoon. Imagine her trepidation when he waved and called her to join him. So to her proudest moment. Stripping off to her bikini, she too jumped over the edge and ‘flew' down to the inviting blue water. This was apparently a good metaphor for life in St Luke's, and she got the next available job.
It is true that St Luke's loses people who are offered good jobs in the meantime - not everyone is willing to wait - and this does have a cost. On the other hand, life at St Luke's is informal with few traditional boundaries to hang on to, and it is important to give the flavour of this from the outset. People who last the distance will have as good an idea as it is possible to get of what life will be like.
Other great companies go through their own version of this process. Getting the right people is paramount - attitude before skill is a common theme- ‘We can upskill them later, as long as they are the right people.' The right people will take on new challenges, move into new areas and keep ideas and suggestions flowing. In essence, they keep the company alive - and great.
Consider the actual culture of the workplace and identify the people who work there most effectively. What is it that means they suit the culture? Specify the attributes, talents and personality traits they bring. Check your interview questions to see if they help you identify people with these characteristics.
Revisit the interview process. Do you rush forward in order to get a ‘bum on the seat'? How well is this working? How might you make the process more rigorous and effective?
Find out when most people leave - this will give you an idea of how successful you really are. If you have a high number of leavers in the first year, you have not given them a clear enough picture of what to expect.
Revisit the exit interviews of those who have left. If possible, contact some of them to find out what would have encouraged them to stay. Find out what would have given them a better sense of the workplace and helped them settle better at the outset.
Talk with your team/section: share ideas about how to describe and demonstrate the culture. Arrange for them to meet applicants for a chat.
Great companies are very honest at interview. Ask a colleague/friend outside the business to read through the information given and describe what this leads them to expect. Talk with new recruits to find out if what you said is what they got.
Once you are known for a great company culture, applications will increase. In order to save time and ensure that you find the pick of the bunch, a thorough process is imperative.
When the technology market was buoyant, Microsoft needed to take in large numbers of people to deliver the needs of their customers. Their recruitment requirement is less these days, but applications still flood through the door because people know that it is a fantastic place to work and develop a career. Separating the high-flyers from the rest is a constant job, and Susie has recently worked out a new procedure with her team in HR.
The first point of call is the website where applicants can look for specific jobs. To encourage self-selection, job specifications are accompanied by pen pictures describing what doing the job will really be like. Having joined only 18 months ago, Susie remembers how hard it was to settle in. The culture is one of working hard, playing hard and being very autonomous. Changes occur at great speed. People who like certainty in their working lives will know straight away that this is not the place for them.
Microsoft has found a recruitment partner that works to similar principles. When an application arrives on the website, the recruiters respond with a phone call to test the water which, if promising, is followed by a first interview with them at Microsoft offices in Thames Valley Park. Until recently this was always held in the atrium - a place buzzing with life, where colleagues have coffee, hold meetings, talk on the phone. It gives a real feel of the flexible style and excitement of the work, but has also unnerved some applicants who were afraid they would be distracted. Now people are given the choice to meet in an office if they prefer.
A CV is then sent to the hiring manager and the HR department for them to consider on a competency basis, and if all is well the applicant is called back for a second interview where he or she attends an assessment day. This includes competency evaluation and role plays involving prospective peers, plus meetings with HR and the relevant managers. The final stage is a third visit to meet a senior leader/stakeholder for the stamp of approval.
Once an offer is made and accepted, the new hire is invited in to meet the team they will work with. Because Susie had a long wait as she worked out her notice, she attended their Christmas party, and so had a good chance to find out all about her new colleagues.
The first morning is a late start to ease the entry, so at 11 am new colleagues gather for a coffee and an introduction to the logistics of working at MS. Each person is given a buddy to look out for them in the early days, and together they go for lunch with the managers. In the afternoon they have a tour of the building, sort out their desk, computer, phones, etc, and go home at 4 pm.
Managers do the local induction, and three weeks later all new starters in the UK are called together for an afternoon meeting. They play a game along the lines of Monopoly, which builds their knowledge of the company overall. Their task is to build a business selling MS products. They get points for spotting significant people along the way, recognising the guiding principles when they meet them, and being able to identify different elements of the software that will help them sell their wares. The winners are those with the most successful business at the end of the afternoon.
The final cherry on the cake is a visit to Seattle - Induction 101. All the global new starters meet together at the headquarters to learn about the worldwide company - a great treat that is highly informative, and a chance to begin building that all-important network.
The end result is a 3 per cent staff turnover rate. And when people do leave it is generally in order to do something entirely different, like study homeopathy or train as a pilot!
If you work with a recruitment agency, how closely aligned are you on guiding principles? Ensuring that you are will ease the selection process.
Make sure that the agency really knows the role involved. Get agency people in to talk with managers and individuals who do the job, so that they can give a clear description to potential recruits.
Do you enable people to get a good feel of the working atmosphere? Think about the elements that make work in your organisation/team distinctive and make sure that people get a feel of this at the outset. If it does not suit them, they can then choose to opt out.
Do all the stakeholders get a chance to meet prospective colleagues? Remember: if this place has a feel of commitment and family, significant people need to be involved.
Induction must be delivered immediately to be of real benefit. In some companies it takes place months later - this will add some value, but in an entirely different way. Ensure that you provide the best local and company induction you can in the first days. Do this in a way that is aligned to the culture. If you work in a fun, exciting workplace, therefore, make the induction fun and exciting.
If your company is global or nationwide, consider bringing all the new people together. This will enable them to get a sense of the full entity, to see where their work fits into the whole, and to begin building a company-wide network that will stand them in good stead.