Zappos and the Quandary of Cultural Fit

In the HR Daily Advisor, Steve Bruce recently reported on the keynote Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh gave at the SHRM Annual Conference.  Hsieh shared that the Internet shoe business places so much emphasis on hiring for cultural fit that it interviews the receptionists and shuttle drivers with whom candidates interact to see if they should get the job, and it also mandates that trainees hit the call center phones during their first few weeks.

But here’s the really interesting thing.  Once new employees are finished with training, they are offered a $3,000 bonus to quit right then and there.  According to Hsieh, this is Zappos’ way of saying, “we only want people who really want to work here.”  Two or three percent of trainees take the bonus and leave, and the employees who remain are more committed to the company’s mission.

Obviously, only a certain type of employee is going to survive and thrive throughout the interview and training process at a company like Zappos, but that’s exactly the point.  Even in a poor job market like this, I still hear of organizations succumbing to desperation hiring so that they’ll have warm bodies to fill gaping holes.

As managers, you should remember that the cost of hiring and training a new employee is exorbitant, and if a candidate is not a good fit for your culture, she isn’t going to last long.  Therefore, you should do everything in your power, even if it means an investment and creative approach like Zappos’, to assess that the hire is able and willing to do well in your environment – before you officially bring her on board. Here are a few suggestions to effectively screen for cultural fit:

Understand the Culture Yourself

Brainstorm with a few top performers on your team, as well as any senior executives with whom you have the opportunity to converse.  Once you have a definition, make sure that everyone who is responsible for interviewing is on the same page.

Do the Airport Test

A manager friend shared this one with me.  You can say:  “if my team were stuck in an airport with this candidate for a whole day, would we be able to stand him?”  Along these lines, take top candidates out to dinner with your team and watch them interact.

Assign a Cultural Fit Specialist

If several people on your team are responsible for interviewing, assign one person whose job it is to specifically examine cultural fit.  Have this person develop a standard assessment process in order to improve consistency and accuracy.

Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. Follow her @alevit.

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