Bringing Consistency, Meaning and Governance to a Global Recognition Program -- #SHRM19 Interview with Natalie Baumgartner




Dr. Natalie Baumgartner is an engagement and culture thought leader and evangelist. She has spent her career translating engagement and culture research into SaaS based software, helping organizations to achieve high performance.

Dr. Baumgartner holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology with a specialization in Strength-Based Psychology. She serves on several boards, including that of the Consulting Psychology division of the APA, and has long advised senior leaders on issues related to culture and engagement. Dr. Baumgartner is a popular speaker and regularly engages audiences on topics related to the employee experience – including a TEDx talk on the importance of culture fit.

Natlie Baumgartner will present Bringing Consistency, Meaning and Governance to a Global Recognition Program at the 2019 SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition on Monday June 24 03:00 PM - 04:00 PM.

Hi Natalie, for those of us who are not familiar with your work, can you please introduce yourself?

Throughout the span of my career I’ve focused on understanding how culture and values alignment drive employee engagement and impact strategic business outcomes. My goal has always been to “change the way the world works,” so it was a natural fit when I joined Achievers in 2017 after they acquired RoundPegg, an engagement technology company I co-founded, and took on the newly created role of Chief Workforce Scientist. I’m passionate about company culture and transforming organizations by enhancing the employee experience, and I’ve spent over a decade using research- and science-based thinking to help business leaders and HR better understand the world of work, particularly the way engagement impacts performance. My focus now is translating our engagement research and theory into technology that makes it possible for organizations to engage employees and advance workforce performance.

You talk a lot about “fit.” Fit with work is critical because it’s where we spend the majority of our lives. If you don’t fit your work, you’re missing out on a huge portion of your life. What is fit?

Yes, culture fit within a company is something I’m extremely passionate about! I even presented a TED talk about the power culture fit has on our lives – in every capacity. Culture fit happens when an individual's values, attitudes and beliefs are in line with the core values and culture of an organization. But, because there’s a talent war going on right now, a lot of companies are falling into the trap of hiring “just anybody” because they need to fill the job. Proper selection affects a team’s morale, as well as performance and productivity. Poor culture fits are 20 percent less likely to be high performers and 27 percent less likely to leave the organization within 18 months – all of which has a major impact on the business bottom line. Yet, I still see managers setting aside culture fit red flags in order to fill a seat – leaning too much on experience and not considering whether the person will succeed within their organization.

Culture fit deserves our undivided attention because it has a profound impact on the likelihood that we will thrive within any organization. Given that corporate culture directly reflects the unique values of a company, our personal values should be aligned with the organization’s. Statistically speaking, our personal core values change very little over time – and the same is true for the values of a company. So, when we’re looking for a job and the culture seems off, we shouldn’t convince ourselves that the disconnect will “only be temporary.” What we see and feel is likely to be true for the duration of our employment. Research shows we are 27 percent more likely to stay longer with an organization if we’re a good culture fit. So, if we’re looking to stay with an employer for the long-term and there are red flags in the interview process, it’s a good idea to carefully consider the ramifications of our decision before signing up.

You’ve said that the way we’re growing companies isn’t working. Nearly half of all new hires fail within 18 months. Eighty-nine percent of those failures have nothing to do with skills and abilities. These employees are failing because they don’t fit. What should growing companies do to avoid poor hiring decisions?

This is the million-dollar question! It starts with companies understanding that the evaluation of a candidate’s culture fit is not a place to take shortcuts. Leaders can ensure that they select the right person by focusing on wiring rather than skills alone, by asking the right behavioral questions and by involving other employees in the interview process. Organizations need to weave cultural alignment questions into their interviewing process, just as they ask a candidate about past experience and certifications. I also recommend that organizations be more transparent about their company culture with the job ads they place and during the onboarding process to help weed out anyone early on who may not be the best fit.

The better an individual fits their work environment, the more satisfied they’ll be. How does Achievers gauge fit?

At Achievers, we’re truly passionate about employee engagement so living by our company’s defined values everyday is in our DNA. That’s why when we’re assessing culture fit in the interview process, it’s imperative that an individual align with the values that are core to who we are. To be clear, our organization seeks and celebrates diversity of thought and we believe that the unique qualities team members bring to the table keep us innovative. However, Achievers’ core values are truly the foundation of our company culture and so we place great importance on seeking out entrepreneurial individuals who share our values – and will thrive in our environment.

You’ve said that culture is developed by employees from the bottom up. And that there’s the official company culture, and the actual company culture...the culture that’s determined by the individual values from each employee. How can small companies cultivate their culture?

When we consider that employees typically spend over 40 hours each week in the office – whether one works at a large corporation or a small, start-up – it’s no wonder culture plays a tremendous role in the degree to which employees achieve success. We know that a great culture is empowered and supported by leadership, but culture is not determined by management. It is determined by the collective personal, core values held in common by the people who make up each organization. That’s why recognition is such a powerful tool. It’s a powerful lever that allows everyone in an organization to celebrate when people are living company values and rally around them. For small companies, building culture can sometimes be easier because everyone’s actions and successes are clearly visible and more interconnected. Smaller companies can also be nimbler, allowing them to reshape their culture more quickly if they see a lack of alignment.

Luckily, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to create a stronger company culture. Once a company's core values are in place, initiatives that help promote health, work-life balance, kindness and gratitude are the tools to reinforce what’s most essential. For example, organizations can reinforce culture by setting up low-cost programs that reinforce specific values, such as a “kindness initiative” that encourages employees to recognize their coworkers who volunteer within the community or a “workout challenge” where employees have a friendly competition to improve their physical fitness. There are many resources available to organizations looking to steer and reinforce a powerful culture.

Culture fit isn’t just nice to have. "Good To Great" proves that. What are some of the best ways to evaluate culture fit?

While there’s nothing more fulfilling than finding the right person for a job, there are times when a candidate seems to be a perfect fit but then fails within months - or even days. There are several ways to evaluate culture fit but it all begins with taking an “inventory” of the company’s current culture, allowing for it to be defined it in a succinct and meaningful way to candidates. That definition enables interviewers to ask pointed behavioral questions evaluating fit (e.g., asking about a time when a candidate displayed a core value, such as bravery or entrepreneurialism in their previous professional life).

During the hiring process it’s also important to be sure you’re soliciting referrals from current employees – since they’re living and breathing the culture already, they’ll know who might be the best fit. Also, if possible, offer a “trial run” of the position so they can get a sense of what it’s truly like in the job, allowing you to evaluate first hand if they fit in with the company’s culture.

Do you have any favorite examples from companies that demonstrate “culture fit” in their pre-employment assessment process? I.e., Zappos with their $2,000 “quit if it’s not a fit” bonus?

One reason cultural fit has gained so much popularity of late is because culture itself has come to define many companies. As you mentioned, think of Zappos, or Google and Apple, who are companies known for living and breathing their distinctive cultures.

Starbucks is another company that focuses on culture fit and offers a “trial run” of its positions before fully hiring a candidate. Job previewing allows candidates to opt-out of the process if they feel uncomfortable with an organization’s culture and I think this is a big part of the success seen in these organizations.

As a CEO of a small business (10 employees), I realize each hire we make represents about 10 percent of our company. That’s dramatic culture change each time we add a new employee. So, we’re protective and try to move slow in hiring. We’ll have a team lunch for final round candidates. We do multiple interviews with different team members. We’ll ask questions that align with our core values. Etc. But, it still feels like...a crapshoot? How can employers like us get more confident in assessing cultural fit?

Whether you’re hiring at a Fortune 500 company or a SMB, culture fit can be one of the most challenging things to evaluate. Hiring the right (or wrong) person has a huge impact no matter what the company size – even at large organizations, bringing on a poor fit has a tremendous impact on the team that person has joined.

However, there are some core tactics that organizations of all sizes can implement to be sure they’re bringing on candidates who will fit as best as possible. Companies need to not only spend the time thoroughly interviewing each person but look at the types of questions they’re asking to make sure they really hone-in on a person’s personality and values. Pointed value questions, like “What values guide how you interact with people - both inside and outside of the office?” are good for this. Make the interview process collaborative so candidates meet with several team members – giving each an opportunity to evaluate fit. I know with smaller companies this can be challenging because taking team members away from their core daily tasks to help with the interview process can feel inefficient – but those extra hours, if used effectively, can help identify candidates that are truly best for your company in the long-run. Lastly, before you make the final hire be sure you’re checking referrals and references to see if they back up a candidate’s claims – anyone who isn’t truthful during this process is not likely to be the best cultural fit.

Switching things up - because I know you’re speaking at SHRM about bringing consistency, meaning, and governance to a global recognition program...what do you wish more CEOs and HR professionals knew about global recognition programs?

When thinking about global recognition programs it’s important to be mindful of the uniqueness of every location and the individual culture each organization – and office - has. Make sure there is some flexibility in how each global location recognizes and engages their people on a smaller scale, but also offer a way to create scalability and consistency across the entire organization. It’s also crucial to get executive support in order to have positive adoption of a global culture of recognition. If the executive team initially understands that recognition is a key driver to employee engagement and sees the impact that engaged employees have on the bottom line, then others in the organization will feel encouraged to participate. I like to say that recognition is contagious – when we see leaders recognizing in a meaningful way, we know the program is valued and that makes us want to take part in it.

For anyone who won’t be able to make it to your talk about global recognition programs in Las Vegas, what do you want them to know?

When a company aligns its core values with those of its employees – and employees feel empowered to recognize each other, we see resulting positive behaviors and business outcomes. It can sound complicated to create a global engagement program of any kind, but I want people to know that implementing a recognition program that enriches a company’s culture isn’t as hard as it seems, even on a global scale. It’s all about starting with a defined set of values and a single, cohesive employee recognition program that is built to recognize those who exemplify those values – thereby demonstrating the impact of those values when they’re lived by the organization.



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