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The Impact of Culture in Attracting Top Talent

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AESC’s Leaders on Leaders podcast explores top trends impacting global leadership. Karen Greenbaum, AESC President and CEO, speaks with leaders from the world’s top executive search and leadership advisory firms.

Karen speaks with Jose Ruiz of Alder Koten to discuss the impact of culture on attracting and retaining top talent.

Below is a brief excerpt.

KAREN:  Jose, why don’t we begin with you telling us about Alder Koten?

JOSE: Thank you, Karen. Alder Koten helps shape organizations through a combination of executive search, cultural and leadership assessments. Our firm is considered a boutique. We have nine partners with 32 consultants in four cities primarily focused on the Americas, North America. The focus of our boutique is on multi-cultural candidates that can work seamlessly across borders and cultures.

KAREN: In a recent AESC survey where with 800+ executives worldwide, the number one reason among those who plan to change jobs in 2018 was for growth opportunity. But the second reason was culture which means it was really important. Why is culture such an important part of the equation in retaining talent?

JOSE: I believe that growth really drives our personal ambitions, and culture is something that we can take into consideration as a positive but it also has the potential of being part of the cost. At what cost are we willing to accept a job? Culture can be part of that if it does not feel natural to us. To me, culture is a little bit like the temperature of a room. When it’s right, it allows us to work better our best and we don’t even notice it. When it’s not, it becomes very evident and we start to become conscious about it. That’s when we start noticing it for the wrong reasons. When we do notice a disconnect in culture and when it does not feel natural, that’s really when we start actually expending energy just to be able to be within that certain group or within that certain company. So it has the potential of becoming another layer of effort that really can make things hard, and that’s when it becomes a cost. Nobody enjoys being uncomfortable, so naturally, we leave uncomfortable environments and uncomfortable cultures.

KAREN: It’s really good to think about the fact that cultures are fluid, and in that respect, there are times when your organization’s culture is determined to inhibit their growth strategy. It actually gets in the way. Assuming that cultures are fluid, how do you change your culture?

JOSE: [...] If you look at culture, there are two broad sides. One side is being, and the other side is doing. A culture of results, a culture of innovation - it speaks to the doing part. It’s a manifestation and doing will be based on context and circumstances. The being part, on the other hand, is much deeper. It involves beliefs and purpose, and it should outlast context and circumstances. This is where evaluating culture can get a little bit tricky, and this is where shaping the culture can get a little bit tricky. For example, if you would ask a group of 50 CEOs if they feel that integrity should be an important of their organizational culture, I can bet you that everybody will tell you that integrity is paramount but integrity itself is not at the core of culture. The definition and interpretation of integrity is.

[...] We can shape the doing part, but it’s much more difficult to shape the belief. Now, to be able to have a culture that really is impactful when it comes to being able to be drawing a strategy, we need to be mindful of both. When we do select employees, when we talk about performance, we have to be very much aware of what our beliefs are. Then, when it comes to driving the circumstances then it becomes a question of being able to have the right behaviors, make sure that people do walk the talk, and that we’ve got a sequence where we’ve got actions that turn into habits and then eventually habits that will get defined as part of the culture.

KAREN: Okay. That’s really helpful. Let me ask you one more question, and this one’s a tough one. Diversity and inclusion is, of course, a part of any culture conversation these days. The notion of culture fit has also been challenged as facilitating unconscious bias. That person doesn’t fit or that person does fit. Can fit still be measured while you’re championing a culture of diversity?

JOSE: This is a very tough question, and I think the biggest risk here – and I think something that is very valid right now – is that many organizations just try to avoid any type of controversy. Many times, in trying to avoid controversy, they head towards the plain vanilla option, and I believe that’s the risk in trying to not be true to your core beliefs as an organization, trying to not champion those beliefs, and then get confused as to the term of what is diversity and what is inclusion. We need to be very clear on what the universal values are that do protect the core of our identity while at the same time making sure that we do allow for the different perspectives and different cultural profiles that can come in and will eventually end up transforming the culture going forward. It’s a tricky situation but I think that companies need to be brave in the regard that they do need to understand what their beliefs are and not be shy about making sure that their culture reflects that.

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