Building Leaders Who Build the Future: Aligning Talent Strategies with Business Goals

We hear it again and again: People are a company’s most important asset. Even the most brilliant, well-thought-out competitive strategy simply won’t come off without the right people in the right places to make it happen.

Corporate culture plays a huge role in that alignment—or the lack thereof. Screening applicants for a good cultural fit can be just as critical as ensuring that they have the skills for the job. At Reell Precision Manufacturing, HR VP Shari Erdman addresses that need with a focus on “mission-driven” hiring. “We fit first to culture, then to position,” she explained. “We do cross-functional team interviews as well, but to pass through the HR gate, candidates must first be culturally aligned—we have to see the passion for our culture, our values and our purpose. We’ve had great success with that approach.”

Erdman looks for interviewees who are passionate about what they do, “not just passing the interview test.” What’s more, the company’s screening and alignment effort continues through the onboarding process, with new-hire and quality-of-hire surveys conducted after 30 days. “We survey the employee, the coworker and the hiring manager to see if we’re getting the cultural fit that we thought we had at the time of hire,” she explained.

“Getting out in front of the hiring effort pays off mightily in ensuring a good cultural fit.”

Reell also promotes alignment within the company by “storytelling” or sharing the stories of employees who have taken action to uphold its values. “When someone takes the initiative to stop a production line because of a quality issue, gives up their time to help a coworker or gets promoted, we try to put those stories out there to demonstrate and support our culture,” she said.

Getting out in front of the hiring effort also pays off mightily in ensuring a good cultural fit. At Greenheck Group, proactive measures to build relationships with schools and to develop talent internally have helped ensure a good cultural fit, which is then strengthened as new hires move up through the ranks. “We focus a lot of attention on bringing people in out of the campuses, building really strong relationships with the schools and then doing the training to develop those people,” said Kathy Drengler, the manufacturing company’s VP of HR. “Seventy-five percent of our promotions are from within. Once you get there, the culture part is embedded.”

Hesse describes that effort as building a talent brand and points out that most companies think nothing of investing resources in promoting a brand to consumers but fail to do the same to prospective hires. “Organizations that really make a priority of their talent brand, that foster relationships on campuses and come up with creative benefit packages can attract the type of people they want.”

However, building and maintaining a culture of alignment may become even more challenging as an increasing number of workers become part of America’s on-demand workforce—self-employed workers who step in and out of roles once held by staffers on an as-needed basis. Some studies predict that such workers will comprise as much as 30% of the U.S. workforce by 2020. This, in turn, will fundamentally change the traditional employer-employee contract—and impact corporate culture. “It will be interesting to see how companies maintain their culture when a third of the workforce is made up of independent contractors,” said Azura Living CEO Joshua McClellan, who points out that many of the healthcare industry’s home health aides are independent operators on the rosters of two or three different agencies. “It’s a challenge.” The ability to cope with intermittent influxes and outflows of workers may well become a differentiator for such companies, with those able to put workers through a bootcamp training to swiftly bring them up to speed gaining a competitive edge.

In the meantime, however, culture rarely receives the attention leaders claim that it warrants. In PwC’s CEO survey, 75% of respondents reported that culture is as important or more important than strategy to a company’s success. Yet, less than 50% felt that it was an item on management’s agenda or that the organization was capably and proactively managing it.


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