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Guardiola, Fergie’s “hairdryer”, and hardy perennials – Drayton Partners illuminate the mysteries of cultural fit.

Extroverts, introverts, hardy perennials and Fergie’s ‘hairdryer.’ Only when you fully understand the ‘culture’ can you assess the ‘fit.’

Drayton’s Nick Maughan and Jonathan Bean discuss some of the key ‘clues’ and ‘tells’ they look for whilst analysing a key component of selection – cultural fit.

NM: Some companies are known to be very tough places to work but the right candidate placed there will thrive. Others, more nurturing and supportive. So, I really try hard to identify what is the essence of an organisation’s culture. Then, I ask myself: what is the business now trying to achieve? Finally, are they wanting more of the same, or looking for a change?

JB: I sometimes find it useful to use the analogy of a garden. The soil is the culture of the organisation – somewhere a candidate can either thrive or wither. Some people need a lot of recognition, status, and praise to give their best. Sunshine and rain, if you like. Others are more – let’s say – hardy perennials. A tough culture is sometimes all they know, and it’s what actually suits them.

NM: If a business is already successful, in most cases, from a cultural perspective, they’ll want to continue doing exactly what they've been doing. In which case, a senior manager with a very different style, well…they might present the organisation with a real challenge. Probably one they don’t need. Alex Ferguson was a very successful football manager. Pep Guardiola is too. But they have two completely different ways of doing things. I don't believe Fergie could take over a Guardiola team and get the best from it and vice versa. Guardiola is more of a “let's get everyone together” person, whereas Fergie is known for his abrasive style, the famous ‘hairdryer treatment'. Both are hugely successful but in different ways.

JB: Understanding the existing culture correctly is a big part of a properly thought out, painstaking, strategic approach to executive search. Of us getting things right. It is competences and experiences which get you hired but, ultimately, it's your behaviours and traits which can, sometimes, get you fired. Especially, if they jar with the existing corporate culture.

NM: That’s one reason I think listening skills are key in our job. I'm really tuned in to what a candidate might bring up at the pre-interview stage. What they are saying, obviously, but even more so, how they're saying it. Are they a little negative or do they give a measured answer? You have to be scanning for signs constantly. Are they self-aware? Will this person fit?

JB: Rather unfairly, before I transferred from industry in to recruitment, I used to view people who have been in an organisation for a significant period as probably not being that dynamic. However, with the benefit of fifteen years’ recruitment experience, I understand how much candidates change and grow over time. Someone who has had four or five different roles – they have usually evolved as their organisation’s evolved. They have made mistakes and – this is key – learned from them. If a candidate has moved on every two and a half years, they’re not necessarily allowing themselves the time to evolve as an individual; to have learned from those mistakes.

NM: Actively listening as we do, looking for these clues and tells, not all selection companies do that. Many recruiters are natural extroverts and only see the positives as they build relationships with candidates, which can sometimes make them less objective. They’re reluctant to step back and make an honest and considered judgement. My natural style is a little more introverted and I take my time getting to know people, but that also makes me more analytical. I'm constantly wondering about what's behind what I'm being told, what’s not being said.

JB: Yes, I agree. That’s all part of ensuring the right candidate is placed with the right organisation. All part of the level of professionalism we, as a company working at the levels we do, are expected to consistently deliver.