”Want better employees, Ask better questions”

We are constantly discussing the importance of communication skills and how they affect relationships and the culture in the workplace.  Organizational culture is fundamental to how the organization does what it does.  The ‘how’ is about relationships, how the members of the organization do what they do.  As a member of an organization, perhaps an ‘employer’, we wonder how often consideration is given to the culture of the organization when interviewing perspective employees AND we wonder how often perspective employees are curious about the ‘how’ of the organization, prior to joining it.

Wallace Immen’s article in the Globe and Mail “Want better employees? Ask better questions in job interviews”, published Jan 5, 2012, is an interesting example of this.  Now more than ever, the importance of how we show up in the workplace and how we communicate not only affects our relationship and culture, it could affect keeping our jobs.

Times are tough.  Organizations aren’t hiring as many people as they used to in the past and so it’s becoming increasingly important that they hire those few who are the ‘perfect fit’, meaning the ‘how’ of what they do meshes with the ‘how’ of the organization.  By meshing, we mean aligns sufficiently to ensure relationships can be built and the fit will ensure respectful communications with a common focus.  However, as described in this article, a study done by Leadership Coach Mark Murphy showed that at least 70% of employers aren’t quite getting it right, employees end up not working out and it’s not due to the lack of skills, it’s due to attitude.

According to the article, the study tracked 20,000 new hires (United States, Canada, Europe and Asia) over a three-year period and within the first 18 months they found that 46 per cent of them had either been fired or received poor performance reviews.  Mr. Murphy goes on to say “I’m regularly told by employers that their low performers have really good job skills, but other factors such as being negative, feeling entitled, blaming or being change-resistant turned out to be the reason they didn’t work out”.  To us, this reflects a lack of alignment between the employer and employee in the ‘how’ of what they do.  If the ‘cultures’ of the two are not aligned, relationships falter.

What is needed at the interview stage to include the ‘how’ of the organization, the culture of the group?


How would you describe your organizational culture?  Looking at the group where a perspective employee will be working, how would you describe that culture.  What are the 3 nonnegotiable of how work is completed?  Once these have been identified, look at how you can incorporate these into the interview, what open questions you can ask to ensure the perspective employees are asked about each of these nonnegotiable.  For example, if an employee is expected to be a team player where innovation is created through collaboration, ask the perspective employee how they work in a team, even asking for examples of what has worked well for them in the past or ask them how colleagues, members of previous teams would describe them, how they worked together.

Perspective employee:

You really want this job because you know you have the required skills and can achieve success when you look at the job description.  However it may be challenging to succeed if the culture of the organization does not align with you, ‘how’ you do what you do.

Reflect on what you need from a cultural perspective in an organization.  ‘How’ do you want to do what you do?  Once you have identified 3 fundamental needs for you, craft questions around them so you can be curious and learn about the organizational culture during the interview.  For example, if you need to receive feedback on what you are doing, you could ask the interviewers how the reporting manager communicates with their team, how the manager provides direction, supports learning for team members etc.  If feedback does not come up, you can then decide if this is a deal breaker or if you can learn and feel valued a different way.  Perhaps the manager could be open to providing feedback and you can ask this.  The clearer you are in the interview about your needs, the better the fit can be.  For example you could indicate you thrive in an environment where you receive frequent, specific feedback and wonder how this manager provides feedback.  You will be able to learn quickly if feedback is something she is comfortable with.

In either case, if the fit is not there, listen to your inner voice.  This may seem like the ideal job and yet maybe it is not.  If the alarm bells start ringing in your head, how can you continue to be curious and open to ensure you ask ALL the questions needed to confirm this is the best opportunity for you?

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