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Culture: The Key to Unlocking Lasting Talent

“Culture” is a term you’ve probably heard many times throughout your career, though it still brings plenty of question marks to a lot of businesses:

  • “What exactly IS culture?”
  • “Do we have one? How do we get one?”
  • “Why is it important? What does it do for us?”
By definition, company culture is a set of shared values, goals, attitudes and practices that characterize an organization.

Culture is shaped by factors across nearly every aspect of your company: How people feel about their work, the values that drive their decisions, the direction and approach of leadership, the communication style of the team, the feel of the office, how you define and celebrate accomplishments, and more. And it’s impact on recruiting, hiring and retention cannot be overstated.

So with a decent definition in hand, let’s answer the question of whether or not you have one?

Yes. Every company has a culture, though not every company gives it the proper attention. And that shows up in some troublesome ways:

  • Leadership going in different directions and delivering mixed messages
  • Not identifying core values or making decisions in-line with them.
  • Not having a deeper set of criteria for evaluating talent beyond a job description
  • A disconnect between what leadership says the company is about, and how the company actually operates
  • Treating culture and values as marketing language on a website, rather than something built, communicated and lived from the inside of your organization outward

But when a culture is well-defined, communicated and consistent, companies are able to:

  • Increase focus and improve decision-making at every level
  • Attract and retain longer-lasting talent
  • Build stronger, more engaged teams
  • Reduce stress and turnover
  • And more!

Our own company’s brand promise—We Find Greatness in the Grey—means we look beyond resumes or references to where a deeper, lasting fit between a company and a candidate is found. Spoiler alert: We’re talking about culture.

Savvy candidates interested in an opportunity ask us all the time, “What’s the culture like?” They’re looking for the intangibles that help them decide if this could be “home” for them, or just another company looking for a Senior Director of Widgets.

So if they asked you, do you have an answer? Are you one of the fortunate folks that have put in the time to define and live by a healthy, consistent company culture? If you said “yes!” you are way ahead of the game! High-five! Go to the head of the class!

But if you’re stuck in neutral, struggling with a starting point for defining or building a culture that attracts and keeps amazing talent, we’re shifting you into gear by offering some steps to defining the pillars of your unique culture.


Defining the Pillars of Your Culture:

Step 1: Assess

They say, how can you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you are? For that reason, you’ll want to perform a culture assessment to give a baseline for building your culture. Here, you’ll identify ideas and phrases that describe your company now, and how you’d like them to look in the future. Having an aspirational quality to your culture helps you continually strive for improvement and success. Download our quick assessment tool, along with a walk-through of the exercise.

Step 2: Connect

Culture is a company-wide concept, so don’t keep your exploration at the top level. Take time to talk with your people. Find out what is or isn’t working for them in the organization. Consider tools like an employee survey to get valuable feedback on their experiences in a confidential, safe way. Have open dialogues with people you think exemplify your “ideal culture.”

Be authentic and transparent about what you hope to get out of this exercise and how you’ll use it. If people feel they have some voice in this process, they will more easily believe in it and feel a part of it. Without your people, your culture will more likely be a liability than an asset.

Step 3: Circle Back

Come back together with your leaders after you’ve taken the broader organization through the feedback and insight process. Talk candidly about the results, highlight areas where you are aligned, and dig into areas where you’re not. The goal here is to land on agreed-upon pillars that define your culture. If this seems difficult, it’s because it is! This is a big deal to your organization, and you want to take the time to get it right and ensure you’re on the same page.

Step 4: Plant the Flag

Now that you’ve finalized your new cultural pillars, it’s time to communicate them…

  • Internally: Every employee should hear and understand how the company defines its culture. The way you do this might vary by organization, but consider things like talking about it in morning stand-ups, highlighting stories of how your teams are living out your culture, incorporate into performance reviews, create internal materials or displays that reinforce the culture, etc.
  • Externally: Culture is a crucial component of successful hiring, so incorporate content about your culture on your website careers page, company LinkedIn page and recruiting materials. And connect your culture pillars into the interviewing process, whether you’re making sure your approach to interviewing and onboarding is culturally-consistent, or you’re translating your pillars into interview questions to assess talent. (see below)
Step 5: Revisit/Revise/Repeat

While things such as core values remain constant, your culture may evolve along with your business. As new opportunities, different strategies, changing goals or new leadership occur, take those opportunities to make sure your culture is still in alignment. Make a “culture review” part of your yearly strategic planning process. Along the way, you’re able to examine how your culture supports the company’s direction, or needs to evolve to do so.


Matching Culture with Talent

With the pillars of your culture defined, you’re well on your way to living it from employee-to-employee and from company-to-customer. You’re also prepared to live it company-to-candidate by turning your pillars into thoughtful interview questions. Here is an example of what that might look like for:

Sample Cultural Pillars:

We Communicate Openly and Respectfully

We Go Beyond for Our Customers

We’re Better Together

Always Grow. Always Improve.


Sample Interview Questions to Match Talent to Your Pillars:

We Communicate Openly and Respectfully: If a co-worker openly disagreed with your recommendation in a meeting, how would you handle it?

We Go Beyond for Our Customers: Tell me about a time you delivered more than a customer was expecting?

We’re Better Together: Describe how you’ve collaborated with others, and how that was better/worse compared to working on your own.

Always Grow. Always Improve. What was the last time you made a mistake at work, and what did you do as a result?

Culture may seem like a buzz-word or “concept,” but is actually a tangible asset that can substantially impact the direction of your company and the quality of your talent. From executives to contributors, everyone reaps the benefits of a well-oiled culture—from increased employee engagement and communication to decreased stress and turnover. Take the time to shape, define and enhance your culture, and it will continue to pay dividends for years to come.


Grey Search + Strategy is a strategic search and consulting firm built on a singular idea for delivering better recruiting results: Look beyond the black and white of resumes and references and you’ll find greatness in the grey. With 60+ years of combined experience in search strategy, recruiting and team-building, we’ve built a breakthrough brand offering more strategic, long-term focused solutions to matching talent with opportunities. We are driven by a passion for understanding unique challenges, discovering unique talent, and bringing the two together for extraordinary results.

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