The 5 Elements That Make a Great Municipal Culture

Filed in HIRING ARTICLES, MUNICIPALITY by on April 28, 2017

image001‘Corporate Culture’ is likely a term you hear often if you attend municipal conferences or read articles on business and management. But what exactly does it mean?

A Municipality’s corporate culture refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how its employees and management interact and do business externally. Often, corporate culture is not directly expressed or defined in policies and procedures but develops and grows over time. It begins at the top, but eventually includes the cumulative traits of the people the municipality hires. Another way of defining corporate culture is – as what you value, what is important for you and your municipality.

“Cultural ‘FIT’ is likely the single most important factor in recruiting dbm50

Even though the term may be overused, I believe corporate culture is important. In particular, understanding how your culture works can help you decide who is a good ‘FIT’ for your municipality. When I speak with clients about hiring, my starting point is, more often than not, corporate culture. In municipalities where culture is often well-defined, you can see it reflected in every hiring decision.


Why Should Corporate Culture Matter?

For starters, no one should dread going to work. The simple fact is, most of us are ‘hard-wired to work so it only makes sense we should look forward to doing so.  The challenges we face at work … the interaction with coworkers and the public, even the atmosphere … should be hard to leave behind each day. Sure, work can be difficult at times, but the ‘culture’ shouldn’t add to the stress; it should ease stress at work!

You’ve all heard people say “I’m happy with my job.” This is why culture matters. Culture keeps the level of enthusiasm high and, of course, happiness is associated with a general feeling of cheerfulness and enthusiasm.

News Flash! Nobody has ever asked Ravenhill Group to find them unhappy employees … this makes a whole lot of sense, because when people are happy, they are more productive. A more productive municipality means things are getting done and that makes everyone in the organization look good … including you! So, contributing to the development and building of a great corporate culture is well worth the time, money and effort you may have to invest.

Corporate Culture is also a recruiting tool. Assuming you want to attract and hire TOP TALENT people – and who doesn’t – it wouldn’t make sense to fill your office with tiny little work spaces, then load them up with staff who have little or no freedom. This would be a sure-fire way to attract unexceptional staff and set you on a course of becoming an unexceptional municipality.  On the other hand, a municipality that espouses freedom, openness, and transparency will quite naturally – like a magnet – attract TOP TALENT. From the moment someone enters city hall, they should get the message: “This is a place with a difference … it has a unique culture!”

By focusing on your town’s corporate culture, you’ll have guiding principles that people will identify with you. Your staff will live by them. Guiding principles will help a municipality get through difficult times. You’ll base hiring and firing decisions on them. They will help your entire staff to “get on the same page” when it comes to your municipality’s strategic plan. In a very real sense, your guiding principles are the glue that keeps the organization together.

A municipal corporate culture that makes staff happiness a reality will lower turnover and produce better results.  Bottom line: Staff loyalty goes up, and the whole municipality performs better … call it a win-win!

If you are staffing up, your corporate culture will become a great ‘selection tool’ for candidates. Those who are a ‘FIT’ will be attracted to it, and if they meet your needs, may even end up getting a job. I read recently that “culturally”, Amazon looks for inventors and pioneers. You want to believe that people who are looking to work at Amazon know this and are attracted by it.

So, let’s turn our attention to the elements that make a great municipal culture…

  1. Should You Hire People Who Fit Your Culture?

From what I have observed over the past 11 years as a municipal recruiting specialist, really good Chief Administrative Officers don’t hire jerks. This is the whole raison d’être behind a really good selection process. Some municipalities will even bring a candidate in for a day or two to work alongside one of their staff members just to see how they work with others.

In a 2012 article published in the Harvard Business Review, Eric C. Sinoway outlined an employee classification system for determining who’s helping and who’s hurting company culture. It goes something like this:

  • Stars. People great at promoting company culture.
  • High Potentials. People with great behavior, but who need more training and development.
  • Zombies. Those exhibiting bad behavior and bad performance.
  • Vampires. These individuals are worse than Zombies because they actually perform well and have power and influence. However, their behaviors are completely misaligned with company culture. They attract followers (the Zombies) who will then begin affecting High Potentials and Stars.

image005At Ravenhill Group, we tell clients that Cultural ‘FIT’ is the single most important factor in recruiting. Once we find a candidate with a great background, a strong resume, and a significant education, we move to the single most important step in the search process … establishing ‘FIT’. Let’s face it, a municipality could go to a lot of time, trouble and expense to hire a person with exceptional credentials only to have that person fail miserably. Why? Simply because they turned out to be a poor ‘FIT’.

Something that isn’t often even considered is that the people you hire represent your municipality even outside of work. If you meet someone, and they tell you where they work, your perception of that place will be affected by the impression that person makes. If they’re pleasant, professional and likable, your view of the town will be positive. If they act like a jerk, it follows that you’ll have a dim view of their town. And it has an even greater impact on an individual if it’s their first exposure to that town and they didn’t previously have an opinion. A helpful person will cause you to view the municipality as helpful. This is why it’s important to hire people who share your municipality’s values.

One bad hire can affect an entire department, and possibly dozens of taxpayers. And it can happen in a flash – and spread like a virus. Your staff will know that you’ve hired a jerk, and if something isn’t done it will definitely get worse.

On a more positive note, the damage can be reversed. And the real values of your organization can be reinforced while you’re at it.  By terminating the ‘vampire’, remaining staff will know that you appreciate and value them and the important part they play in your corporate culture.

  1. Everyone on Your Staff Needs to Know the Municipality’s Values & Mission

One question that often gets asked during interviews is: Why do you want to work here?

Behind that question is the need to find out what the candidate actually knows about the municipality. A solid answer that demonstrates that the candidate has done their ‘homework’ can provide the interviewer with a real sense that (s)he may be a fit for the position.

Naturally, an interview will only indicate so much. After all, anyone can fake it for half-an-hour or so. This is one reason why I always tell clients to “be very careful not to hire the best salesman, unless of course, you are actually seeking a salesman” dbm50

THIS IS NO TIME FOR MISTAKES … One of the best methods of avoiding a hiring mistake is to put a candidate through an effective screening process.  For too long, municipal leadership has totally underestimated the importance of the ‘FIT’ as a factor in hiring. Statistically, 89%* of hiring mistakes are due to poor corporate cultural fit*. Every search we perform includes a proprietary customized ASK Selection™ Questionnaire. We use it to screen candidates, and it has proven extremely effective when determining a potential match for our clients’ municipalities. The Questionnaire examines, screens and scores a candidate’s attitudes, skills, and knowledge. It’s also customized – developed based on our client’s corporate culture. A good background check will help too. The “proof” is, as they say, “in the pudding”, so the only real way to know if someone will be a ‘FIT’ for your values and mission is to watch them work for an extended period of time. This makes having the backup of a strong quality guarantee imperative. At Ravenhill Group, we guarantee our work for 365 days! * Forbes Magazine

  1. A Good Decision Can Come from Anywhere

Think you have all the answers? Think again!  A municipality where only council and senior staff make all the decisions will effectively guarantee that you’ll be sending some of your brightest and best away to other municipalities.

You can witness this happening as municipalities get bigger. Staff become less and less involved in key decisions, and there can be a tendency to limit employee freedom. As a result, any impact they may have had on the municipality is negated. These tendencies can become part of the culture. “Go to work, do what you’re told, help ‘me’ to reach ‘my’ goals.” Any impact your staff may have on town business is minimized, and they become, well … “just another employee of just another town.” The truth is that this mindless going through the motions stuff actually works for a lot of people! It’s all they really want: they go to work, do what needs to be done, and watch the clock until 5:00 P.M…! After all, it’s just a job!

But this is definitely not what TOP TALENT staff want out of life.

TOP TALENT people want to have a voice and a meaningful influence on the municipality and its direction. They have figured out that anyone can win a debate with the most senior person at the city. They also know they can create tools for the town without the need for management approval.

One example where a TOP TALENT employee acted without the need for management approval was in the creation of the Google News tool. It was the ‘brainchild’ of a research scientist at Google named Krishna Bharat. Creating Google News wasn’t something that came from a management meeting and descended upon Bharat. He invented it after the September 11 attacks because he figured “it would be useful to see news reporting from multiple sources on a given topic assembled in one place.” It came from a problem that he was having; he wasn’t instructed to create it.

All organizations, whether public or private, and even in municipal government, have greater success when staff are given this type of freedom – when employees aren’t ruled by a hierarchy, but instead, are assumed to be TOP TALENT employees who are a ‘FIT’ for the corporate culture. The knowledge that great ideas and really good decisions can come from anywhere in the organization, along with expanding employee freedom, if you allow it, become foundational to attracting TOP TALENT men and women, who are a ‘FIT’ for your corporate culture.

  1. Encourage growth and ownership

A strong municipal culture, however, isn’t just about fun! It’s about encouraging your staff to see their job as more than just a job – you want and need them to own their job and their ideas. Once you’ve built this collaborative, trusting environment, your staff will bring ideas to the table. If it’s their idea, put them in charge of it! If an employee wants to learn something new, provide the support for them to do it. Today, innovative municipalities don’t hire staff to remain in one job for an eternity; they hire innovators who will contribute to the future of the municipality in a meaningfully powerful way.

  1. Your Municipality is a Team, Not a Bunch of Individuals!

Ever notice how many really good municipalities refer to their employees as a “team”?

Town of Newmarket, ON: “Would you like to be a part of something bigger; View our current employment opportunities and join the Newmarket team today!”

The City of Yellowknife, NWT: “Our commitment to you, should you be interested in joining our team, will be to provide you with exceptional training opportunities, educational enhancements …”

The City of Dauphin, MB: “… searching Full-Time and Part-Time Crew to join our team!”

The City of Peterborough, ON: “If you want to serve this great city, come join our team!”

The City of Calgary. AB: “Join our team share in … (our) vision of creating and sustaining …”

The City of Richmond, BC: “Find out how you could become part of a team that shares a commitment to making Richmond “the most appealing, livable and well-managed community in Canada.”

The City of Fredericton, NB: “When you join the diverse and talented team of people at the City of Fredericton, you work to make Fredericton an even better place to live and work!”

Building an outstanding culture is not an overnight event, and it’s not always easy. You are likely to hit some bumps in the road; during those times NEVER FORGET that: your team, is your number-one asset.

And, as always, Ravenhill Group can help put the right people in the right place at the right time! Give us a call today!

Bruce Malcolm

About the Author ()

Bruce's background includes 30+ years of human resource management experience covering all aspects of HR administration with a clear specialty in team building and recruiting. He created and developed the concept of “Ethical Head-Hunting™”. Bruce began his recruiting career in 1971 with Prudential Assurance.

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