Culture in Staffing: Taming the Three-Headed Beast

By: Chris Dyer, author and CEO of PeopleG2

Success in the world of staffing comes in many ways—such as delivering for clients, helping people find new work, and running a thriving business with great employees. Let’s look at that last one more closely. Particularly in the staffing sector, the right people are what set a company above the competition. In other words, it takes a superior staff with a well-defined culture to locate the right talent for another business.

Perhaps this is why company culture is harder for staffing firms to nail. In my calculations, compared to a firm in another industry, it is three times more difficult. Thus, the three-headed beast!

I’ve seen this dynamic from within and without. My organization, PeopleG2, provides pre-employment screening and related services. Because so many of our clients are staffing firms, I have had the opportunity to observe their internal culture and to compare it with different types of firms across the country. Through these contrasts and my own company’s efforts to improve culture as we grow and change, I made a discovery about staffing culture. The challenges in building and preserving it are more complex, and threefold. The three “heads” that they must vanquish are: 1) the company’s main, baseline culture; 2) numerous internal micro cultures; and 3) their clientele’s distinct cultures.

Sorting through these layers can be beastly, indeed. So let’s look each one squarely in the eye.

Head number one, the baseline culture, is what you would expect—an overarching culture that comes from the corporate office and is directed by the owners or leadership. In my book, The Power of Company Culture, I define culture as easily articulated ideas such as vision statements and values combined with harder-to-see norms, behaviors, and beliefs. This often top-down experience is designed and fed by leaders at the highest levels of the organizational hierarchy. They set the tone and expect it to ripple throughout the organization. But staffing companies have more to consider.

With offices and locations spread across the country, staffing firms typically also have community cultures. This is the second head of our social beast. Various locales and regional teams produce vastly different ecosystems, with micro cultures occurring within these smaller offices and among designated teams or groups. The overall company culture “commutes” from corporate headquarters, but local leaders and teams generate their own identities. The more branches you have, the more community cultures you must supervise.

On top of those layers, the average staffing firm also deals with a third head, the external cultures of their clients, which may bear no resemblance to their own working environment. As they are placing people into temporary positions, understanding those distinct cultures is key.

How does this three-headed beast stand in the way of your success? At any given moment, your staff could be thinking about how to navigate within the company at large, how best to get things done locally, and how to satisfy a client’s needs in placing one person over another to achieve the right fit for a key job. The cultural complexity can be maddening to the point of incapacitating those who have to make strategic decisions.

The good news is, working on your company’s culture will help you overcome any challenges that the three-headed beast can throw your way. Here are three specific cultural elements that staffing firms can leverage into a competitive advantage.
  
Communication.

The stronger the overall corporate culture becomes, the better it can permeate to the local offices and dispersed staff. Here, communication is the key. Employees within great cultures don’t just communicate, they overcommunicate—in a good way. We cannot state too many times what is important, how we expect things to work, and what we value as an organization. So, communicate often, and in varied formats. Express yourself verbally and via email, chat programs, text messages, and in any other formats you have at your disposal. Why? Not all employees digest information the same way. It typically takes three or more iterations, covering a concept in different ways over a short period of time, for everyone to understand and retain the information.

Tribal Speak.

Businesses with large workforces and many locations often use a common language to connect them. Tribal speak is not our basic language, but one invented by the overall corporate culture. Disney is famous for having over 100 unique terms that the whole staff knows to describe employees, customers, where you are at the park or store, and other issues. No matter which amusement park you visit—from Anaheim to Orlando, Paris, or Shanghai—the staff share this common internal language. It binds them together socially, aligns them professionally, and helps them feel connected to the larger company culture. While your local community culture is valuable, it should not supersede or interfere with the overall culture. This simple approach can be fun and effective.

Measurement.

Often we know what to do, procedurally, to address the three-headed beast, but we fail to ensure that it was actually done. Measuring key areas in the culture process can mark the difference between success and failure. How can you do this? Survey employees to determine their understanding of your core values and cultural direction. Survey clients to ensure that you met their needs and placed people who aligned well with their culture. Survey your temporary placements to see how well they understood your culture and that of the company that hired them. Asking how well aligned they felt with that company and why will shed light on how well your staff played the culture card. This type of data also uncovers trends about your operation that you can make the most of to improve performance and profits.

In the end, navigating all three cultural landscapes appears to correlate with success. If you want your staffing firm to thrive and grow, culture is your sure-fire solution to a beastly threat. Start small, and focus on the area that can have the biggest impact on your business. Then add more layers and ideas from there. As you test new approaches, make sure to overcommunicate with your team, in language that resonates with them, and to measure your progress toward cultural mastery.

 

Chris Dyer, author of the bestselling book The Power Of Company Culture: How Any Business Can Build A Culture That Improves Productivity, Performance And Profits, is the Founder and CEO of PeopleG2, a premier partner with Avionté providing integrated background checks for staffing firms. He is the host of TalentTalk on OC Talk Radio and iHeartRadio, an in-demand speaker on company culture, remote workforces, and employee engagement, and a frequent contributor to Forbes, Inc.,the Society for Human Resource Management, and many more.

About Avionté:

For over a decade, Avionté has been providing innovative, fully-integrated front and back office staffing software solutions throughout the U.S. and Canada. With a strong focus on building great partnerships along with leading solutions, Avionté services over 550 customers and nearly 15,000 users.

 

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