The Executive Brief

Culture Still Matters

Mike Frommelt Leadership, Core Values, Culture


Lately, I’ve come across a handful of articles and social media posts from talent professionals debunking the idea of hiring to culture. While I’d like to be nice and say I respectfully disagree, I can’t, because I vehemently disagree.  After 18 years running KeyStone, having worked with hundreds of clients and placing hundreds of executives, I’m more convinced than ever that culture fit is absolutely critical.

When I co-founded KeyStone 20 years ago, I set out to create a search firm that was excellent at placing executives who were a great cultural fit for the companies they were joining.  From my experience in both recruiting and corporate HR, I knew that poor culture fit was the biggest reason an executive would fail and/or get fired. In fact, for many years I used the tagline Culture Matters on our website and on my business cards.

My guess on why some have decided culture doesn’t matter anymore is because culture can be fuzzy and tough to define. Of course, if your culture isn’t well defined, or is defined improperly, it will be impossible to hire accordingly. It’s no wonder hiring professionals get frustrated trying to hire to a culture that doesn’t really exist.

Core Values and Culture

Culture starts with core values. The only effective method I’ve found for hiring to culture is via core values. Core values are the basis of culture. Our core values drive our behaviors, and company cultures are defined by how they behave, thus core values and culture are synonymous. The good news is we all have core values, so if you can identify the core values of a candidate and evaluate their alignment to your company core values, the fit will be there.

The CEO's Role in Core Values

Core values can drive the success of your business. Of course, this is easier said than done, but the first and most important step is getting your company core values right. Particularly in private companies, the core values of the business come directly (80-90%) from ownership and/or the CEO.  Because the CEO (or owner) is the ultimate authority on what behaviors are rewarded, punished, tolerated, etc… He/she/they set the standard for employees.  Many CEOs and owners want to dismiss this, not realizing how big of impact they really have, or maybe not even recognizing their own behaviors.  Be assured though, the “fishbowl” analogy is real, top leaders are in the bowl, and everyone is watching…and behaving based upon their observations.

So, to ultimately have an aligned team, the CEO/Owner must first get crystal clear on their own core values.  Not the ones you wish to be, not the ones you wish your employees would espouse but the ones that really drive your behaviors.

Core Values Assessment

To get started on this you can download the KeyStone core values assessment.  But, don’t just fill out the form and call it good.  Spend a few weeks really observing yourself at work. Carry your list in your pocket and after interactions with employees ask yourself; Do these values really drive my behaviors?  If not, tweak your list.  Don’t worry about how others will judge you on this. Other than a value that drives you to unethical or illegal behavior, core values aren’t good or bad, they are what they are. Once you know it’s right, start looking at your team.  What’s driving each of them, do they align with you, do they align with each other?  If not, it probably makes sense to at least revise your company core values and start judging employee performance accordingly. If the misalignments are drastic, particularly on your senior leadership team, changes there may be necessary.

Studies show time and time again, teams who truly share core values will outperform those that are misaligned.  There’s no doubt, Culture still matters.  Download the KeyStone Core Values Assessment.


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