Monthly Archives: March 2013

Organizational Culture Series Part I: Friendliness and Pace

My story begins in the small town of Ames Iowa.  Not exactly the kind of place you would expect to go to study organizational culture but I find myself at a small but rapidly growing tech company called Webfilings to talk about their culture and their recruiting systems.

I already had a copy of their culture report based on comprehensive surveys of their employees.  Two things that stood out in the culture survey became immediately apparent moments after walking through their doors- Friendliness and Pace.  Webfilings oozed both of these qualities- a rare combination.  First and foremost what struck me was the warm and welcoming atmosphere. From the receptionist to senior management I was immediately welcomed.  I felt like I had walked into a family gathering and was an honoured guest.  During my stay I was always greeted with generous smiles and sincere queries into my accommodations and wellbeing.  I have no doubt that some of that friendliness was a result of the Iowan culture in general which is well known for its hospitality.  It was also clearly a deliberate result of Webfilings management to create this atmosphere.  As a software company, they compete directly with attractive employers like Google and Facebook for talent.  Webfilings had built itself from the ground up to be a sharing collaborative environment that could attract smart, young programmers and support personnel.  A large lunch hall provided free catered meals served at long tables with bench-style seating to encourage sharing meals together.  Team rooms dotted the scattered complex to encourage open discussion. Senior managers dressed in casual clothes and it was often impossible to tell by looking who was in charge.

I noticed that everyone’s workspace was dotted with rubber ducks and I asked why these were everywhere.  It turns out that the Webfilings buildings are located near a large concrete water drainage structure and when it rains it turns into a temporary stream.  To blow off steam some of the founding employees decided one rainy day to race some rubber ducks.  Now all new hires find themselves purchasing their own lucky ducks- some are decorated in racing stripes and other identifying features.  When it rains Webfilings employees can be found racing them together. A shared moment of joy in the rain to break up a hectic day.  One more part of their friendly culture.  It was hard not to have a corporate crush on Webfilings.

However, to say Webfilings was hectic is an understatement.  Their Pace score compared to over 1200 companies in our culture database was off the charts- well over the 90th percentile.  Hectic frenzied activity was a hallmark of this junior company.  Webfilings was abuzz with activity, an excitement that permeated the place.  In preparing for my visit it wasn’t unusual to receive e-mails sent at 2 or 3 a.m. from senior managers taking care of business in the wee hours.  I got a sense of what their daily schedules were like.  During my day and a half workshop the attendees were constantly changing with people darting in and out to take care of urgent business.  Smart phones clicked, buzzed and whirred and you learned quickly to cut to the chase or risk losing your preoccupied audience.  Despite the frantic pace of activity, Webfilings employees seemed genuinely excited and happy to be there.  In a country that has experienced considerable setbacks in employment, I sensed that the employees were proud and energized by their shared success.

Moving forward, rapidly growing companies like Webfilings are the most vulnerable to unintended cultural change.  Each new hire has the potential to influence the corporate culture- particularly at the management level.  It was clear that they liked who they were as a company and hiring new employees who fit into their culture was a priority for them. It was one of the many levers they were pushing to steer their little company in the direction they desired.


Derek Chapman, Ph.D.President & Founder

Measuring Your Organization’s Culture

A key component of the CounterpartMatch system is the careful measurement of organizational culture. If you want to find people who fit an organization’s culture, you had better be sure you are measuring it properly! Over a two-year period with over 1500 employees at over 400 companies, we developed a proprietary measure that captures 8 key dimensions of organizational culture. Our research indicates that these 8 components are how individuals think about or categorize companies when they try to describe them. With these 8 factors you can describe any company. Unlike some culture measures that oversimplify culture by placing your company in a ‘box’ and describing it with a single term, we keep the data in a form that reflects how people actually think about companies. Our 8 dimensions include: Dominance, Corporate Social Responsibility, Innovation, Traditional, Trendy, Pace, Prestige, and Friendliness. With highly reliable and accurate scales we can assess organizational culture with a high degree of validity.

Organizational Culture- Some facts

Organizational culture has been studied extensively for decades. Culture is the shared values and beliefs that employees have about their organization. For example, employees at a high priced law firm might consider their organization to be prestigious. This shared belief can influence how people behave at the company, how they interact with other stakeholders and even what they expect from the organization in pay, benefits, and work hours. Organizational culture defines the mindset of employees in the organization. Sounds easy so far? Well it is actually very complicated. There is considerable debate surrounding what values or factors are important to measure when we try to figure out an organization’s culture. The list of potential values and beliefs is endless so how do we know which ones to use to describe the company? Many practitioners argue that we can’t do this systematically and the only way to describe the culture is to conduct very expensive interviews, focus groups and site visits and then write an impression of the organizations culture. The advantages of this is that the culture description is highly tailored to that company and is rich in detail. The drawbacks are that two different analysts can come up with two very different descriptions of the same company based on their different training, philosophy, interview questions used, individuals interviewed etc. So which one is right? Another issue is that it makes comparisons with other organizations impossible so we don’t know if that company’s employees actually feel their company is more prestigious than other companies relative to employees from those other companies. To solve this problem we can try using standardized survey-based measures to identify corporate culture. More on this in our next post.

The Dark Triad of Leadership

The Dark Triad of Leadership

If you have ever encountered an arrogant, self-serving, manipulative leader who has made your life difficult, this article is for you. Three key personality traits define these toxic leaders: Narcissism (self-loving and arrogance); Psychopathy (an inability to feel empathy for others) and Machiavellianism (a desire to gain power and status by manipulating and using others). Together they are known as the ‘Dark Triad’ as they are known to predict severe consequences for organizations from fraud to creating toxic environments where your best workers leave you for saner pastures. Leaders with these traits feel nothing for employees, suppliers, and other stakeholders. They desire power, wealth and status above all else and are willing to lie, cheat, manipulate and steal to get what they feel they deserve. They believe rules are for suckers and you need to ‘play the game to win’ or you are just another pawn. Our instruments identify leaders who possess these traits and help you screen them out before they wreak havoc in your organization. Avoiding one leader with this Dark Triad is often worth more than the cost of using the reports for a year alone. If you have encountered a leader with these traits you understand how important it is to screen them out.

Solutions to Faking on Personality Tests

Solutions to Faking on Personality Tests

Any non-ability test used in a selection context runs the risk of individuals trying to ‘cheat’ or present themselves in a more favorable light. This is true for interviews, resumes, biodata tests, personality tests, values tests, and so forth. Early attempts to prevent this resulted in the use of forced choice measures in an attempt to get people to choose between two equally desirable attributes to reduce impression management. Unfortunately it doesn’t work for several reasons: a) the forced choice nature of this approach creates more inaccuracy than the initial problems over faking do b) controlled studies show that applicants ‘can’ fake if told they should present themselves in a better light, however, these studies show that most do not fake without being prompted to do so c) if we fear that faking is an issue, then we would expect that the test would not be very predictive of outcomes(i.e.valid) because of the distortion of the truth- there is no evidence that this is the case. In fact, the opposite is true. d) many tests incorporate indices and algorithms that catch people actively trying to cheat the system and look good. CounterpartMatch finds about 4-10% of applicants actively try to look better. These are normally screened out but it is up to the client to decide what to do with these cases e) some argue that the ability to identify what is needed in the company (i.e., saying what they want to hear) is actually a skill set. This is widely debated but it is one position f) we know that including warnings in the applicant instructions that cheating can be detected and that they will be removed from the competition if they exaggerate their responses has been demonstrated to eliminate cheating g) a combination of F and D is the best solution h) in their zeal to eliminate socially desirable responding, ipsative tests throw out important information and create false choices that corrupt the data they are trying to measure. It creates a worse problem than it is meant to solve. We figured that out in the 1950’s and 60’s but the testing methods being used by some tests pre-date even this very old news.

Issues With Forced Choice Tests

Issues with forced choice tests

It is impossible to establish the validity of forced-choice or ‘ipsative’ tests due to the nature of the scoring system. For example if I asked you if you preferred chocolate ice cream or vanilla you might indicate chocolate. However this type of scoring doesn’t tell you if you love both vanilla and chocolate, hate them both but hate chocolate less and so forth. Thus ipsative tests do not ask questions in ways that allow meaningful comparisons among individuals. It only describes that person relative to themselves. So you are more introverted than extroverted by we don’t know precisely how introverted you are relative to other people in general or anyone else in particular. This is a major issue in selection as these kinds of comparisons are critical. You cannot establish fit if you don’t know the level of the variable, we only that you like chocolate more than vanilla. Over the past 35 years significant progress has been made in understanding and measuring personality. Perhaps the biggest improvement has been the emergence of the Five Factor Model of personality- sometimes referred to as the ‘Big Five’. Decades of research and thousands of published studies by top psychologists have shown how useful the Five Factor Model is in predicting many organizational outcomes. It is the scientific standard used on the field. In the past 10 years there have been some modifications and improvements in the Five Factor Model. A sixth factor (HEXACO model) was added which improved predictions even more and is becoming well recognized as a major alternative to the Five Factor Model. These personality models have been shown to be accurate across many languages and national cultures. They are the pinnacle of over 100 years of personality research in our field. In addition to the major personality factors they also provide more fine-grained personality facets to aid in prediction. They were designed for a ‘normal’ population in organizations rather than being used for clinical populations. Applicants also respond to them more favorably than with clinical psychology tools which may also identify disabilities (making their use in selection legally risky). Counterpart Match only uses the most up to date, cutting edge personality measures that have been scientifically validated. This provides the most accurate descriptions and predictions which are needed to make informed choices in organizational contexts.

Four Strategies to Retain Employees

Employee retention strategies

Four Strategies for Retaining Employees

Competition is heating up in the job market. Finding and keeping key employees is becoming more challenging. There are several strategies for retaining employees in competitive times:

1)Bribe them: this strategy involves high pay and benefits to attract and retain employees.

a) Advantages: it is quick, it is effective (in the short term), it is simple to implement

b) Disadvantages: this strategy is easily copied by your competitors creating an escalating bidding war for talent; this is the most costly method of solving the problem; workers who are hired in this system tend to be mercenary they will stay with you only for the pay and are the least productive workers; it is only effective for the short term as workers quickly feel entitled to the new level of pay/benefits

2) Build an attractive employer brand: Foster a corporate culture that attracts people and keeps them there. Knowing what workers are looking for in a workplace and creating that environment can assist in attracting and keeping key talent.

Advantages: Once this is in place it works for you 24/7 with less input needed to keep it going- your reputation is the asset; workers will stay in these organizations with lower pay and benefit incentives making it inexpensive once it is established; very difficult for competitors to copy your culture so you retain advantage for some time.

Disadvantages: This takes a long and concerted effort to establish; initial costs can be high; companies with existing strong cultures may find it hard to change them; harder to implement in larger companies relative to small ones.


3)Hire for Fit: Find employees who are a good match for your company culture and hire people who fit that culture.

a) Advantages: Far easier to do than changing your corporate culture;least expensive of the strategies; Can be implemented very quickly; highly effective; long lasting effects; reduce payroll and benefit costs as people hired are less mercenary; reduces competition with other employers who copy your strategy as they are looking for employees to fit their culture not yours;

b)Disadvantages: Works fastest when a lot of hiring is happening, otherwise the effects take longer to become established; good tools are needed to make this type of match (we have those tools available);

4) Bind them to you with contracts : Use legal contracts that require new employees to work for minimum periods or be penalized for breaking the contract.

a) Advantages: Simple to implement; legal costs are up front; predictability of work force due to knowing when workers are eligible to leave.

b) Disadvantages: The contract works both ways so you may be obligated to employ workers longer than you want; mass exodus of workers at the end of contracts can create a contagious effect on other workers; work performance suffers because workers stay only because they have to and do the bare minimum.

Which strategy should I choose?

Many factors need to be considered before choosing a recruiting and retention strategy including the size of the problem, company size, frequency of hires, industry, availability of qualified applicants and so forth. Often more than one strategy is used simultaneously to improve the chances of success. Contact us at if you have any questions.