How are Corporate Cultures Born?

When considering new job opportunities or career moves, there are lots of factors that come into play. Of course people think about salary, benefits, and potential for growth. Many employees also focus on their “fit” [1] with an organization’s culture. But where does that culture come from? The Attraction-Selection-Attrition (ASA) Model [2] was developed to explain how cultures form, how they are reinforced, and why they sometimes need to be forcibly changed.

Attraction: Job seekers are attracted to certain companies more than others. Maybe this is because of the company’s brand recognition, its mission, or because candidates have friends/family who work at the company and perceive a good fit. If I like my friend and she likes her employer, then I would probably like working for that company too. Organizations make a strong effort to be attractive employers. Many of my conversations with Chief HR Officers included discussions of “employer brand” and how to be known as a great place to work. One reason for using employee engagement surveys is to ensure that current employees enjoy where they work, which will make them good “brand ambassadors” who help spread the word about why their company is attractive. External candidates who perceive a good fit with the company are more likely to feel that attraction and apply for a job. Attraction is a huge help in recruiting top talent.

Selection: During the interview and hiring process, managers tend to pick people who fit the company’s culture. There are inherent biases that play into this process, and candidates who are more similar to the people already working for the company are more likely to be hired. Although there are laws protecting against certain types of discrimination during hiring, managers still have a lot of leeway to determine if candidates fit the company culture. And they use it.

Attrition: People who do not fit the company culture tend to leave. Sometimes, people are hired and get into the job and then realize they don’t fit. Other times the company goes through an organizational change and doesn’t feel the same to veteran employees. Sometimes employees perceive social cues from their coworkers that they don't fit in, and feel pressured to leave. Whatever the reason, when people feel a lack of fit, they usually move on. As a result, the people who remain are the ones who like the culture and want to perpetuate it. They are also the ones who continue being brand ambassadors and hiring managers, so they reinforce this cycle by attracting and selecting the next round of similar candidates.

Attraction – Selection – Attrition.

The result of this cyclical process is a company with a strong culture of like-minded individuals. While that can be energizing and really powerful, it can also lead to some troubling outcomes. One issue is it drives the company toward homogeneity. Employees who all fit a strong culture tend to think and act similarly to one another, which can lead to groupthink, tunnel vision, and a lack of creativity. Most people today understand that diversity is an imperative, both socially and also for strong financial performance. The ASA model can dissolve diversity unless companies actively fight against the homogenizing process. To that end, diversity and inclusion need to be strongly mandated as core features of the culture so ASA can work in the company’s favor. Companies that are known for being inclusive attract a much wider range of job seekers, are willing to select many unique kinds of candidates, and allow employees to feel good fit even if they are different from some of their immediate coworkers.

By actively fighting homogeneity, inclusive companies actively fight failure.





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