CEOs Reflect on Hiring for Culture Fit and More

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PHILADELPHIA—When it comes to hiring top talent to lead organizations through both predictable and unforeseeable challenges in today’s rapidly evolving business world, choosing someone who is a cultural fit and aligned with organizational values is key, CEOs said recently. 
 
“An organization can spit them out quickly” if they’re not a cultural fit, Denise Morrison, president and CEO of Campbell’s Soup Co., said on June 19, 2013, at the Wharton Leadership Conference at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Morrison, who became CEO of Campbell in 2011, said fit is particularly important as she guides the Camden, N.J., soup maker through a period of change. The company, which has nearly 128,000 employees worldwide, has not hired otherwise talented people because  executives were unsure whether the candidates would mesh with the corporate culture.
 
“They’re very smart; they’re very capable,” she said. “But we just don’t know if they will fit into the culture.” 
 
Alex Gorsky, chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson, agreed that it’s critical to find employees who are grounded by the same core values that are outlined in the company credo, which guides the company’s decision-making and has been its moral compass since 1943.
 
“Making sure you’re aligned around that true north is more important than anything else,” Gorsky said. 
 
During the event, Morrison and Gorsky reflected on the methodology they use and key questions they ask when seeking the right fit.
 
“I interview all of the leaders and consider [hiring] talent one of the most important parts of my job,” Morrison said. 
 
The company doesn’t have a perfect system, she said, but based on Campbell’s dual mandate to build its core business and expand into faster growing spaces, several characteristics help a candidate have a winning profile.
 
When Morrison became CEO, growth had stagnated, but the company now has several strategies to help it expand culturally. One key attribute is the ability to take risks. The soup giant added “leadership courage” to its existing values of character, competence and teamwork. 
 
Leadership courage is the ability “to take bolder risks with the highest levels of integrity, to think outside the can and to push beyond where we feel comfortable,” Morrison said.
Campbell’s wants employees to know it’s OK to fail and to learn from mistakes. After all, she said, fear and stress are “the antithesis of innovation.”
 
Not everyone will have every valued characteristic, but the top-level candidates are assessed against those values. Finding out where there might be potential gaps helps with hiring decisions, development and assimilation plans, and onboarding, Morrison added.
 
Interview Questions Campbell’s Asks
 
When interviewing candidates, Morrison finds nothing speaks louder than a person’s track record. She asks for specific examples “of when they did x,y,z” or how they worked through a situation where they had one point of view and others—perhaps in different countries—had a divergent view. Morrison tries to get at how the person influenced those with other perspectives. 
 
“It’s not just the what—it’s also the how people do things that’s so important,” she said.
 
Interviewing with Johnson & Johnson
 
Gorsky said a distinguishing characteristic of great leaders is that in addition to strategic insight and the ability to work a profit and loss statement these individuals possess an aptitude for building great teams. It boils down to an algorithm like this:  
“Can they select great talent, bring a great team together where one plus one plus one equals seven?” he said. “Selecting the right leaders for now and the future is one of my primary responsibilities.”
 
To assess a person’s potential for developing talent, Gorsky asks finalists to name three or four people who would say the candidate had a significant effect on their career, why they would say that and what those people are doing now. 
 
If the candidate doesn’t have a clear list, he or she probably isn’t the right person for the job, Gorsky said.
 
Leadership Traits Companies Want
 
Johnson & Johnson, based in New Brunswick, N.J., has 120,000 employees worldwide. Gorsky said it’s critical to have diverse leadership. 
 
“If we all look alike, sound alike, say the same thing, we probably don’t need each other there,” Gorsky said. He added that he’s not afraid to have someone with a point of view on difficult issues that “sometimes makes you bite on your back molars a little bit” with discomfort. Disagreeing shouldn’t be a “career-limiting move,” he added.
 
Here are other characteristics Gorsky looks for:
 
Intellectual and leadership flexibility and dexterity. Given the diversity of Johnson & Johnson’s business, Gorsky seeks people who can move successfully from one environment to another. That means leaders who understand what customers and surgeons are looking for everywhere—from Shanghai to New York City. They need to adapt well in different cultures and be able to relate to people “in a very authentic way across regions, across countries, across borders,” Gorsky said.
 
Different scientific capabilities. It helps if they can quickly learn the medical-device or pharmaceutical or consumer business. And they should be “comfortable being uncomfortable” with going into a new business and having to learn it and understand the key drivers, Gorsky explained. 
 
Endurance and persistence. Leaders must have the drive to make it through good times and bad. 
 
“We all know you’re going to face challenges,” Gorsky said. “It’s how you manage through those challenges that’s important.”
 
Pamela Babcock is a freelance writer based in the New York City area.  To read the original article on SHRM.org, please click here.