Companies have personalities, too

Once personality is known, companies can attract ‘best fit’ candidates
By Gail Rieschi
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/09/2008

Just like people, businesses have distinct personalities. They are often the brainchild and creation of one individual, and are therefore well aligned with the personality of their creators. They are also influenced by the personality of every employee, as well as by the customers they serve.

As a company matures, the various influences — founding members, executive board members, employees and clients — interact to create a unique organizational personality, often quite different from that envisioned by its founder.

Organizational personality influences work style and methods, processes and systems, decision-making and value propositions. It dictates how and why things get done and, most importantly, it significantly affects an organization’s ability to attract and retain employees.

Many people talk about organizational culture, which is essentially the same as organizational personality. Using the term “personality,” however, helps steer the focus away from superficial cultural indicators such as dress code, the physical environment, rules and regulations, for example. The word “personality” brings out other, more meaningful attributes, such as values, presentation style — low key or high profile, high driving or reflective — and approaches to performance and rewards.

Also, and just as importantly, the term “personality” helps people conceive of the organization’s attributes in human, and therefore easily understood, terms. This makes for easier matches between a candidate and the organization for personality fit. It lets you compare apples to apples.

Apple versus IBM

Organizational personality is easier to understand and appreciate when it is considered within the context of well-known organizations. Drawing from the work of Linda Fekete, author of

Companies are People, Too

, we can compare the personalities of two well-known and much-studied companies: Apple and IBM.

Apple is a youthful, leading-edge, fast-paced and innovative organization. It is energized and driven by outside-of-the-box thinking, risk-taking, spontaneity and quick decision-making. It is big-picture focused and idealistic in its approach.

It is energized by possibilities, opportunities and ideas. Informal, flexible, and relationship-focused, Apple encourages collaboration, discussion and innovation. Relationships are close and informal. Individuals attracted to the Apple environment will value independent decision-making and a fast-paced work environment that prioritizes change over conformity to established norms.

IBM, on the other hand, thrives on order, continuity and consistency. It focuses on the tried-and-true. It ensures clients consistency, quality and value for dollar. Not a risk-taker, IBM supports change only after sufficient study and analysis confirms a high probability of success and a positive impact to the bottom line.

Relationships tend to be more formal, impersonal and business-focused. Security, stability, reliability and dispassionate decision-making are characteristics of this organization. Individuals attracted to organizations such as IBM enjoy systematic, process-based work environments and measured, thoughtful change.

While the technical skills within these organizations are often very similar, their distinct personalities offer a better fit for one person over another.

Adapt hiring strategies accordingly

Knowing, and profiling, a business’s personality helps HR adapt its hiring strategy accordingly. People are drawn to companies that have personalities aligned with their own work values and preferences.

A job ad will attract more people with the right personality if the organization works to elevate the company’s profile so it becomes as easily recognized as Apple or IBM.

Companies that hire for organizational fit are rewarded with improved productivity and profit, happier and more committed employees and significantly higher staff retention. Jim Collins, author of

Good to Great


Built to Last

, suggests hiring according to the organizational personality is what, in part, separates great companies from the merely good.

Well-defined personality helps weather storms

During times of change or instability it’s easy for all organizations to lose their sense of identity. When the company personality is well-defined and communicated, it is less vulnerable to external influence. Employees weather periods of organizational instability or change more easily when they understand the essence of the company has not been affected, and that their own values and interests are still aligned with the corporate personality.

Identifying the company’s personality

The most effective way to identify an organizational personality is to conduct an objective assessment, carried out by a third-party evaluator. But there are also ways to undertake a self-assessment. Start by developing a questionnaire that can be completed by individuals at all levels of the organization — executive, management and staff — as well as by a sampling of clients.

Questions should centre around:

• organizational systems and procedures;

• HR management;

• information gathering and decision-making;

• work routines;

• work style; and

• reputation within the industry.

Once the organizational values are clearly known, values-based behavioural or situational interview questions that are unique to the organization and are designed to measure fit can be developed.

There are also many commercially available assessments that will help identify job candidates’ work values and work personality, and measure them against a pre-developed organizational value profile. Work simulations and work trials designed to identify work values rather than just technical competency are also valuable tools to augment the selection process.

Taking a more measured approach to personnel selection and focusing attention on making the right hire every time will pay significant dividends.

Gail Rieschi is the president and CEO of vpi, a Mississauga, Ont.-based HR consulting firm. She can be reached at (888) 336-9500 or For more information, visit

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