In a recruitment situation, attention is often paid to the burdening profile and other selection criteria related to the position in question.

The interview may chart the work experience and discussion may focus on achievements during the work career and motivation of the candidate. Top candidates will also go through more in-depth evaluation. But what if success does not follow? Unfortunately often the reason is found in inter-personal chemistry that was not there. Below, I offer you three stories...

“Lack of chemistry” is often a ready explanation for something having been left undone when making selection decisions. Criteria analyses are needed, thinking about the requirements of the operating environment is necessary and shedding light on the business objective is a genuine prerequisite of successful recruitment.  

But if scarce attention is paid to the operational culture of the organization, it is possible that a key foundation of success is overlooked. And the deeper part of the culture it is, the more likely failure will follow. I am here referring to the deepest basic assumptions, the existence of which is taken for granted.

Alcohol?

A person, who received positive feedback from the main owner for his achievements during his first year, was selected as the managing director of our example machine shop. The owner led both the product development projects and was the chairman of the board – in other words, he was both the supervisor and subordinate of the managing director.  The couple made this arrangement work by sharing duties between themselves.

The managing director returned to work, but the atmosphere was ice cold.

Then came the first annual vacation of the managing director, which passed with him drinking at the summer cottage and he could rarely be contacted during that period.  He had also been seen under strong influence of alcohol during midsummer. After the summer vacation, the managing director returned to work, but the atmosphere was ice cold. Cooperation ended the same autumn. Being an abstainer, the main owner could not tolerate this kind of behavior from the managing director of his company.

Moving the couch?

A family company had grown into a major player in the area over the years. The founder had employed his children and built his apartment adjacent to production facilities. As the company grew, the facilities were expanded and new staff hired. The owner continued to live next to the factory. The company hired a production manager who was tasked with developing turnaround times and productivity. He also managed to achieve savings by making material inventories smaller. Likewise, with  a more predictive work planning, he managed to shorten delivery times.

The emotional tie of the owner in the company was too strong and he could not adapt to the speed of change.

Cooperation between the owner and the production manager started showing cracks when the latter set out to redesign the layout of the production facility to be more efficient. Afterwards, the daughter of the owner told me that his father could not accept this, since he had personally designed the production material flows. The production manager had apparently “started moving the couch in the owner’s living room” – the emotional tie of the owner in the company was too strong and he could not adapt to the speed of change.

Money, money, money?

A service business company had grown from three experts’ shared idea to provide care services to customers requiring them. The aim was to provide genuine and warm as well as humane customer encounters. The owners’ trust in the profitability of the operations was based on a vision of long and loyal customer relationships and the staff’s professional commitment to care work.

The deepest basic assumptions of a company may be overlooked because they are difficult to put into words.

A new managing director came from outside the industry and started following monitoring and steering practices based on cost efficiency and performance-based productivity with quite a directive approach. The work community comprising experts started feeling bad – emphatically calculation-based leadership did not motivate them, quite the contrary, it paralyzed them.  The managing director no longer works for the company.

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It is easy to talk about visible aspects of organizational culture: how things appear, how people are served, what the facilities are like. People also know how to talk about operating methods and norms. But the deepest basic assumptions of a company may be overlooked because they are difficult to put into words. They may be embedded so deep in a professional identity or stem from the history and birth story of the company that they are taken for granted.  

That is, until there is a collision. However, at that stage the rift is too wide and differences of opinion have become emotion-based. If culture-dependent issues had been taken into account (and talked through) at the initial stage, the collision could have been avoided. And there would be no reason to blame chemistry.