Company Meeting

UB Insider #48: How Hiring for Culture can Help Companies Win

About this episode:

When it comes to hiring, do you pick the person with the strongest resume, or the person who fits in best with your carefully crafted company culture? In this episode of UB Insider, CHG Healthcare Services puts a premium on culture, and Kevin Ricklefs, senior vice president of talent management for CHG Healthcare Services, tells why. Subscribe to our podcast or download this episode on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or Google Play.

Lisa Christensen: Hello and welcome to UB Insider. I’m Lisa Christensen, online editor at Utah Business magazine. When it comes to hiring, do you pick the person with the strongest resume? Or the person who fits the best with your carefully crafted company culture? CHG Healthcare Services puts a premium on culture, and Kevin Ricklefs, senior vice president of talent management for CHG is going to explain why. Welcome.

Kevin Ricklefs: Thank you for having me.

Lisa Christensen: So tell me broadly about the culture versus skill philosophy of hiring.

Kevin Ricklefs: Yeah, I think at CHG we actually try and believe that there’s not a tradeoff between culture and skills. I think it’s really not an “or” statement, but an “and.” And our perfect candidate would be somebody with a great fit but also has a great skill set to be highly effective.

Lisa Christensen: So you take the resumes, for example, of the candidates, or you take the candidates, all of whom are over a certain level of competence and then you judge those for culture?

Kevin Ricklefs: Well actually, if we had a choice, we would actually pick culture. So the first cut of any resume would be a cultural fit. As long as someone has the basic skills for the job, we do a phone interview with them. And the first interview is only a cultural fit. So you won’t even get to the skills part of a conversation unless the person culturally fits into our organization.

Lisa Christensen: Why have you put such a high priority on culture?

Kevin Ricklefs: Well if you think about it, companies are made up of teams. Teams get along if they culturally work together. And so the best teams that we have are teams that not only fit together from a skills perspective, but also from the perspective of being able to get along and work together and have strong decision making. To be able to kind of discuss things and come up with the best solutions. And so, although skills is really important and is ultimately going to be what drives some success in an organization, to really get to the next level of success, to be highly effective, you really need a team to get together. So it’s really the natural first step for us.

Lisa Christensen: How do you determine culture over the phone?

Kevin Ricklefs: Well, you first have to determine your culture. So over the last 10 to 15 years, we’ve really defined what we meant by the type of person we want culturally. It’s really based on our core values. And what you ultimately do is ask questions pertaining to that.

Lisa Christensen: Okay. So in the case of CHG, what is your culture and then, with those core values, how do you ask those questions?

Kevin Ricklefs: Yeah, so our culture is based around our number one core value of putting people first. So our business strategy is to build a great place for people to work, and a highly engaging culture for our employees. And we know that highly engaged employees are more productive, they provide better quality, they tend to stay longer and so the retention rate goes up. And interesting enough, absenteeism goes down.

So as we’ve built the core values, we’ve found that there are kind of five things that are important. Putting people first is clearly number one. Somebody who has a continuous improvement idea, somebody who is a lifetime learner and wants to come in and learn new things, has the ability to move around during their career.

Ultimately, we are a relationship business. So the ability to have open and honest communication with their leaders and their coworkers becomes very important. And all of that really, ultimately drives the other three core values, which is growth, professionalism and integrity.

Lisa Christensen: How did you hit upon this strategy and how has it changed over time?

Kevin Ricklefs: Well, a lot of trail and error would actually be the right answer to this. I think at the beginning we hired for just skill-fit. We were kind of a standard hiring practice, and as we built the employee-centric culture. Through the last 15 years, we started, the first step we took was to add in cultural questions within the normal scope of an interview.

Over time we just began to realize that people that made it the best and were the most effective as they started were the ones that had a stronger cultural fit with the company. So then we took it out of the face-to-face interview and we put it as a phone screen. And it really is a part of it. You will not get a face-to-face interview with our company if you don’t have a cultural fit. So we’ve kind of moved it around and developed questions along the way that seemed to work to get out the questions we were trying to get.

Lisa Christensen: You mentioned that the people who fit culturally seem to excel over time more than the people who maybe had a slightly higher skill set than they did. Why is this?

Kevin Ricklefs: Because in any company, especially in a growing company, your first year employees and your second year employees represent the biggest opportunity. And if employees come in and they feel engaged and are productive, and they feel like they’re making a difference to the company and their teams, ultimately it speeds up their onboarding process. And because it speeds up their onboarding process, it kind of snowballs on itself and ultimately they do better, quicker. And so they’re happier, they’re more engaged because they feel like they’re contributing. We’re happier as an organization because ultimately we have higher productive and better quality employees.

Lisa Christensen: You screen employees first based on culture, and then pick the one after that with the highest skill-set, rather than having the employees with the highest skill-set or the most impressive resumes first and then screening for culture after.

Kevin Ricklefs: Absolutely. That’s the order that we’ve gone and we’ve just developed that over time.

Lisa Christensen: I don’t mean to put your on the spot, but using CHG as kind of a model, what are some things that other companies can do to kind of mimic that?

Kevin Ricklefs: I think the first thing for any company is to understand their culture. And every company has a culture. Every company has good things about their culture, the things that help them succeed. And they have things about their culture that will hinder them to succeed. And if a company spends time understanding what helps them to succeed and then hires for those things, those behaviors, those actions from employees and leaders, you are basically hiring for fit. So you have to start the process on understanding your culture and then design, kind of the programs behind that.

Lisa Christensen: So having a degree of corporate self-awareness is important.

Kevin Ricklefs: Absolutely. And again, there’s no right company culture. It depends what your company’s objectives are, what your goals are, what business they are in, the industry, how you’re structured. All of those things matter to create a unique set of behaviors that really create your culture.

Lisa Christensen: Have there been any times when you have hired for culture and you’ve found that, this role might be more skill-specific rather than a culture-specific role? Or are there any roles like that? Is it always culture first?

Kevin Ricklefs: It’s the old balance. And we’ve debated your question a lot. I would say it this way, there certainly are jobs within any organization that have to be highly skilled. You think about tax reporting, you have to have a skill at tax reporting. But once you get past those jobs, which are fairly small in most organizations, most skills can be trained. You still have this problem of, or this goal of finding the right cultural fit. And so in a highly technical position, or a highly skilled position, you might need to look at only the group of people who have the skill, but ultimately you still should pick the best cultural fit. And those employees will tend to do better in those organizations.

Lisa Christensen: And tell me how that has affected the company.

Kevin Ricklefs: Well, you know, when we started our journey 15 years ago, we started kind of building a culture that was employee-centric. We were at 50% turnover. In 2016, we’re at 14.6% turnover. We’re in an industry with about 50-60% turnover. So all of our competitors are losing about half their people every year. We only lose about 15% of our people, at least last year. And we are a healthcare staffing company, which is a relationship driven business.

So ultimately, in a relationship driven business, the reason why clients and our providers and our customers work with us is the relationships that they have with the people they talk to. So keeping someone at the company, keeping them engaged is highly competitive. It’s to your competitive advantage. So by driving turnover down over the last 15 years to kind of record levels for our industry, it creates a huge competitive advantage for us.

Lisa Christensen: Have you got the process down to a science, quite yet? Or are you still kind of honing it?

Kevin Ricklefs: Absolutely not. Everything to do with people is an art. So the same set of cultural questions don’t work for every position. So you can imagine that a sales person and an accounting person are two different cultural fits because it’s really not just the culture of the company, it’s really the culture of each team. Each team and each type of employee has a different culture. So it really comes down to the hiring leaders understanding their own culture and how that fits into the company culture, but ultimately hire for their team culture.

Lisa Christensen: Is there anything that people might not understand about your hiring process, or that you feel might be misrepresented?

Kevin Ricklefs: Well, I think in general the thing we hear a lot is, you’re just picking everyone’s friends. You’re just picking people who are like yourself, and are you getting a diverse enough workforce? And what we found is that we have a fairly diverse workforce. We have a wide variety of people. One of our ideas, our slogans is, “free to be me.”

Be yourself at work. And so because we have a wide range of people who are all open and honest about what they believe in and what they want to be at work, you tend to get a diverse workforce because they’re all inviting their friends. About 70% of people that we hire are from employee referrals. And so the vast majority of people know somebody at the corporation, the company, prior to working there.

Lisa Christensen: Do you have any advice for people just sticking their toe into the hiring for culture water, in terms of asking the right questions or determining which skills can be taught and which should really come with the package?

Kevin Ricklefs: Yeah. I think one of the things I would suggest to your viewers is don’t wholly change your hiring process. Pick one or two things that you know represents the behaviors of the organization, or the behaviors of the culture of the organization and just ask a few questions along the way about that during your standard process. Even that way you’ll get to hire people who have like viewpoints, and they will naturally fit into the culture more. So you don’t have to go from zero to extravagant very quickly, you just have to start the process. And each time you interview and each time you gain more understanding of your culture, it’s pretty easy then to say, do we have a question about that? Are we asking people about their viewpoints on putting people first? Or whatever the definition of the culture is.

Lisa Christensen: Okay, well great. Thanks so much for coming in and telling us about that.

Kevin Ricklefs: Yeah, I appreciate it. Thank you.

Lisa Christensen: Thanks also to Mike Sasich for production help. Tell us what you thought at or on social media at @utahbusiness. You can also catch up on our podcast and subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening.