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Hiring for cultural fit is as important for SMEs as for larger organisations
When you start out in business it’s fairly easy to keep the culture and values alive. After all, when those working in the business are the people who founded the business then there is little to water down the personal qualities which made the business a success in the first place. Admittedly, as soon as you start to interact with customers, suppliers and others then outside influences come into play but it is still comparatively simple for one-man bands or small teams to keep the culture strong.
But what happens when the business grows? How easy is it to keep the culture alive when employees join the mix, when investors start to have their say, or when preparing to hand the business down to family members or to sell it to third parties? The answer is at the same time both simple and complex but the end of the day it all comes down to planning and trust.
In this article, we are going to explore the effect on small businesses when employees come into the mix. Future articles will look at the importance of robust succession planning and the impact of mergers and acquisitions on SME culture.
Hiring for cultural fit
So what should you consider when you are looking to bring employees into your business? Let’s start with a warning. Inevitably, by the time you decide to take on an employee your workload has already passed the point of no return. You are stressed, continually under pressure, and likely to accept the first candidate who comes along. They may be the relative of a friend, they may be someone you met networking who seems to have the right qualifications but is inexplicably out of a job at the moment, or they may be the first person the job centre sends along.
Serendipity says that this person may be exactly the one you are looking for; reality says that they could be a disaster. No matter how under pressure you are, taking time to ensure that your new employee is right for the business will pay off in the long run. Hiring for cultural fit is increasingly becoming prevalent in the business world and there is no reason why SMEs shouldn’t follow the lead of larger organisations in ensuring that their new employees will not only uphold the culture and values of the business, but will actively enhance them.
It’s all down to trust
But choosing the right person to carry on the aims and values of the business is not the only consideration. Those already in the business have to be prepared to trust someone else with workload, interactions and the culture. Letting go isn’t easy. That spreadsheet which you always prepared first thing in the morning, ordering supplies, posting on social media; whatever the task, it was yours and now it belongs to someone else and they have to be trained and then entrusted to carry out the work without interference. Success comes from choosing the right person, engaging them in the strategy, aims and values of the business and making sure that you continue to demonstrate strong cultural attributes in your work, your attitude and your behaviour.
There is one further consideration and that is the relationship which you have with customers and suppliers. When they have been used to dealing with one individual, the importance of a proper handover cannot be underestimated. We recently came across an accountancy firm in which the departing partner wrote to introduce their successor but six months on that successor has made no contact whatsoever with a client. The message that sends out is entirely negative and has soured a long-standing relationship. Taking time to introduce new employees to customers, suppliers and key stakeholders strengthens the relationship as well as boosting employee engagement.
When you need to take on new employees it is a sign that your business is succeeding. Choosing the right person and taking time to integrate them properly into the business will help to ensure continuing success and future growth.