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Activating Organizational Culture in the Recruiting Process

Individual blocks with letters spell out the word "Culture" in a single row against a yellow background.

By Deb Taft

This article originally appeared in Hunt Scanlon Media’s 2024 report on building a modern company culture.

Leaders may have the most influence over shaping an organization’s culture, but in practice, individuals across its workforce forge the day-to-day patterns and ongoing relationship dynamics that determine how each person experiences that environment. Leading organizations acknowledge this reality and rightfully place high emphasis on culture when hiring.

Whether organizations are looking for professionals to align with their culture or push it forward in new directions, leaders often evaluate candidates through the lens of workplace culture. As executive recruiters, we help our clients approach searches more holistically, putting an emphasis on how the process as much as the results can strengthen culture.

An executive search offers an incredible opportunity for organizations to either enhance or evolve their culture to fuel a new strategic vision for the future. The recruitment process itself activates and amplifies organizational values, paving the way for both new hires and existing team members to thrive.

Organizations that recognize the significance of cultivating an intentional and considered culture will be better positioned to achieve their goals and serve their communities. This is an ongoing ethos, renewed and augmented with each hire. 

The Discovery Phase Reveals Culture

A robust discovery phase is a critical step in initiating a productive search process. Search partners and leaders take the opportunity to dive beneath the surface of how an organization presents itself; in the process, they take a clear-eyed look or deeper listen, and cut to the living, breathing aspects of culture.

Mission and values statements are just the beginning; are these alive and well in the organization? Through structured dialogue and probing questions, we identify alignments or gaps between values and the concrete actions organizations may be taking to put those values into action. What commitments have been made? How are organizations realizing these commitments and pushing them across and through the organizational structure? How does the culture of the Board echo or complement (or clash with) the culture of the organization?

The discovery period can also be an important litmus test for organizational commitment to creating inclusive environments. Beyond the scope of any particular search, recruiting is an opportunity to evaluate hiring practices and metrics, to gauge real progress, and to understand if units and teams are consistently realizing the culture they desire. Where are they in their efforts to enable professionals to bring their backgrounds and lived experiences to the workplace and to grow and develop in that context?

Ultimately, examining organizational culture informs both recruitment strategy and the end-to-end recruitment experience. Thoughtful strategy and experience design help organizations attract, engage, and support candidates who resonate with and enhance their values and contribute to dynamic workplaces.

The Authenticity Check

Authenticity may be a buzzword, but that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. In fact, it’s the cornerstone of any meaningful workplace culture. When leaders and organizations prioritize authenticity, they do more than align policies, resources, and practices with stated values; they also proactively acknowledge the speed bumps they experience while trying to live up to their values. Being transparent about both successes and setbacks fosters an environment of trust and accountability that both resonates with existing team members and attracts new talent.

The recruiting process is a stress test for authenticity. Not every organization is willing to reveal their true selves to candidates. Yet candidates today are savvy and discerning, and information is plentiful. They ask more questions than ever before, scrutinize sources and recent actions, reach out to staff and community stakeholders to gauge their experiences, and “interview” organizations in return. While candidates don’t expect perfection, they do seek confirmation of overall values alignment. Sharing tangible plans and honest reflections are winning strategies.

During interviews, candidates probe for alignment (or lack thereof) across all levels of the organization—from frontline staff to leadership and the Board. Misrepresentations or exaggerated progress toward achieving goals risk undermining trust and credibility. For hiring organizations, humility and honesty will go further than unsupported posturing.

The Activation of Values While Recruiting

Craft the Narrative

An accurate, energizing description of the current state and future aspirations of the organization can serve as a powerful vehicle for conveying culture to candidates. It can also provide organizations with a baseline to hold themselves accountable before, during, and after the search. We recommend that organizations start by asking basic questions about the context (organizational, societal, cultural) in which the search is unfolding. Where is the organization in its strategic trajectory or evolutionary arc? Is continuity desired or change demanded? How does the open position factor into the answers to these questions?

Embody Inclusion

If inclusion is a core value, it should permeate every aspect of the recruitment process. This involves not only fostering diversity in candidate pools but also engaging a range of stakeholders whose involvement will help position the new hire for success. By prioritizing inclusivity, organizations can tap into a wealth of diverse perspectives and experiences, build organizational resilience, and drive innovation.

Engage Reciprocally

In a symbiotic recruitment process, candidates are not passive recipients but active participants. Encouraging candidates to conduct their own due diligence and engage with the organization engenders mutual respect and transparency. This reciprocal engagement not only empowers candidates but also signals to them that their perspectives and contributions are valued—a crucial aspect of cultivating a healthy organizational culture.

Move Beyond Subjective Fit

The notion of cultural “fit,” while often touted as a recruitment imperative, can inadvertently perpetuate homogeneity within organizations. When organizations challenge preconceived notions of fit, clarify core values and competencies, and prioritize alignment with those core tenets, they limit subjective assessments and instead promote precise evaluations of prospective talent.

Conclusion

The recruitment process is not just a means of filling vacancies but a vehicle for advancing organizational values and aspirations. By infusing authenticity and strategic intentionality into every stage of recruitment, organizations cultivate a culture that not only attracts top talent but also fosters collective team resilience and growth. Underlying this entire process is the idea that recruitment is a transformative opportunity—one that has the power to shape the very fabric of organizations.

Deb Taft is CEO of Lindauer. An innovative leader in the nonprofit and professional services arenas, Deb’s considerable expertise includes governance, strategic and growth planning, organizational management, and talent; equity, inclusion, and diversity; and fundraising, marketing, and communications. Prior to leading Lindauer, she was Senior Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Grenzebach Glier and Associates, where she oversaw all global consulting practices for one of the world’s leading philanthropic consultancies. Deb has also served as Chief Development Officer and Interim Chief Strategy Officer for Girl Scouts of the USA and held executive roles at Simmons University, Tufts Medical Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund, and Concord Academy.

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