Wednesday, April 24, 2013


After addressing this issue for the better part of two decades and reading numerous recent posts and threads (ad nauseam) on the topic it appears obvious that few people really know what Cultural Fit is within its business context.  It sounds to many like so much esoteric nonsense and sometimes that’s the way the government sees it.  That’s probably the way you should look at it as well… at least within the window of discrimination (race, religion, sex, age, etc.) and the ultimate well-being of your company and your clients.

Now does this mean that you’re going to go out and deliberately hire a square peg for that round hole?  We hope not.  What this does mean is that you are going to write air tight position descriptions that identify legitimate requirements (Bona Fide Occupational Qualifications - BFOQ) for the position (including your prevailing management style) and hold your candidates to that standard. That effort should include training your recruiters, hiring managers and first line supervisors to a high level of competency on what they can and cannot do and that means not injecting their personal bias into that process.  Therein lies your key.  We are assured that Human Resources already embraces a working knowledge of Best Practices when it comes to Recruiting and the potential for discrimination in a skewed employment function.

First line supervisors and hiring managers are where the rubber meets the road for any company and those less seasoned and trained are where many employment problems emanate.  Many of that ilk are disposed to entertain and hire those who seemingly share their interests and values or at the outside eliminate those they feel may ultimately pose a threat to their domain – that old territorial imperative thing. Needless to say, these have little to do with, “cultural fit.” 

The question then begs - are hiring managers looking for a Friend or as Lauren Rivera, Assistant Professor of Management at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management offered, “a romantic partner” or optimally - the best qualified candidate for your position? A recent employment study validated our observations by reflecting that a majority of the hiring managers surveyed ranked cultural fit (CF) and specifically their definition of CF as, “the similarity to existing employees' backgrounds, hobbies, and presentation” as the most important measure of a candidate’s worthiness during the job interview (Yikes!*).

Well, that’s not the real definition of cultural fit which as aptly defined by HR Consultant Susan Heathfield of is the, “Culture, the environment you have created for employees in your workplace, is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a group of people.” We agree but most importantly it’s also how companies deliver their product and accomplish tasks – how they collaborate/work together and demonstrate the core values of their company in order to achieve their mission. So, within the context of the candidate, cultural fit is the perception of their ability to comfortably and effectively work in an environment that is compatible with their own beliefs, values and work ethic.

As an indicator of the prevailing mindset, a recent survey published in Forbes indicates that in an effort to increase their employee retention numbers, 88% of surveyed employers are looking for cultural fit over skills in their next hire (Yikes!*).  So, if a lot of their Associates like football then better not hire someone who shuns athletics in favor of the local ballet.  Yes, that’s really happened. It now just seems a secondary consideration whether the candidate can perform in the applied position.

There are so called management consultants and business folks on the World Wide Web advising that while employers should always look for employees with a high degree of competence, they should always choose cultural fit over competence when they have to make a choice?  We ask, why put yourself in a position where you are required to make that choice and potentially compromise your company?  We also advise that cultural fit should never trump competence as a factor in any employment decision. Why fill up your ranks with same sign, same dress, same everything and cut yourself off from those could/would evolve your company and carry you forward as business needs require? Now, while you may identify several equally qualified candidates in terms of competencies, an estimation of cultural fit may be the tipping point for your ultimate selection. We would also offer that companies always be sensitive to any potential discrimination issues.

In a same song, different verse perspective we are reminded of companies and particularly one that used a personality test – ones like Myers-Briggs, Bigby-Havis, Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI), Keirsey Temperament Sorter (KTS), Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2 post offer only), etc. as valid predictors of job performance and therefore a major part of the employment process. Understanding the potential fallacy of those tests the company initially relegated them to a seat (one vote) at the decision making table. Those tests, however, ended up dominating the entire process and mostly were the ultimate factor in employment decisions. In all fairness we add that the consulting company was disappointed and questioned that approach.

These tests are not only extraordinarily expensive, they are time consuming and with scheduling, travel, housing and other issues adding substantial time to the all-important time to fill (TTF) metric. A seemingly routine requisition that should have taken 30-45 days on average to fill now took twice as long.  Most HR Managers we know question whether these personality tests actually communicate anything useful about how future employees might perform on the job. We feel that a comprehensive background investigation and drug screen coupled with a sophisticated interactive, behavioral interview process by well-trained hiring managers who understand the job and their company’s culture and mission, have proved a much more effective mechanism.

While we somewhat digress we wanted to make the point that hiring managers, especially those who don’t know or understand what cultural fit really is, who hang onto this criterion to the exclusion of other more relevant standards, aren’t doing themselves or their companies any favors.  As alluded to previously, we also wonder if these hiring managers have any clue about the potential for discrimination and any disparate impact issues.

The bottom line is that cultural fit can be both – Nonsense or a BFOQ.  A candidate who embraces and demonstrates a management style and work practices not compatible with your company could be a legitimate factor when considering that individual’s suitability for a position.  For example, a candidate who has demonstrated preference for an independent, freewheeling entrepreneurial style vs. a business culture that values and embraces a more directed team approach – one more highly regimented and controlled - may not be the best fit for that company. If you are dealing with an enlightened candidate they would consider this information highly relevant as well.

However, the hiring manager that eliminates individuals who may not conform to all their cultural norms (or personal tastes) though demonstrate all the key competencies they are seeking, are probably missing the boat. Yes, it can be a delicate balancing act.  Don’t overlook those capable and qualified candidates who can consistently “think outside the box” and forward your agenda/mission. That rationale as one respondent opined, “Doesn’t leave the team/organization open to diversity and diversity can generate significantly greater results.” We agree. Companies that select employees via a cookie cutter model will be putting all their eggs in one basket (like the canary in the mirror) and predictably may end up with folks that all think and act alike.  That usually spells disaster or at least stagnation for companies operating in a 21st century business climate which will probably require the capacity to quickly change direction – and not end up like so many lemmings hurling themselves over the precipice.

So, just because a candidate is “different” doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be a good fit for your company. We advise that cultural fit should never trump competence as a factor in any employment decision but can be, “one seat at the table.” Companies need to insure that their recruiters and hiring managers understand all the relevant operational details of their company’s policies and employment process including the significance of cultural fit in any decision.  Likewise those managers need to be monitored just to make sure that they aren’t hiring someone just because they drink the same beer…


Ned Buxton

* Yikes! equals astonishment, surprise, alarm and then fear - in that order.  

PS - Please note that this piece like all previously offered posts is not intended to be construed as legal advice, rather for informational purposes only and reflects the opinions of this writer based on his business experience. Please contact your Human Resources Department or employment attorney with respect to any particular issue or problem. NB

Saturday, April 20, 2013


I was off work last Monday, ill for two days with some stomach bug that’s victimized many in our Recruiting Department.  We’re like one big day care, a petri dish where many of the more routine annual illnesses are shared involuntarily including the latest version of the flu and other notable, opportunistic viruses. Thanks to modern medicine this will only be an inconvenient few days and I am anxious to return to work.  The state of my health, however, is not the point of this post rather, that I was home and when not sleeping and gathering my strength, the news of the day dominated.

The morning was rough and while I was counting fingers and toes, the world slid not so blithely by.  Here in Dallas some deranged young man shot and killed his pregnant girlfriend of many years in a Hamilton Park neighborhood home and then fled the scene.   A witness to the shooting told Dallas Police Officers (DPD) that they saw the alleged shooter drive off and that the victim in a dying declaration identified the suspect as the one who shot her. All that was certain and not conjecture.

An all-points bulletin was put out for the car which was identified by DPD about 90 minutes later and a high speed chase ensued which was televised throughout the DFW area.  Eventually the shooter made his way back to the same Hamilton Park neighborhood from whence he came but only after loosing several volleys at pursuing police, wounding one officer who was treated and released from a local hospital.  After the suspect’s car ran a curb he bailed out and ran into a house that only moments before was occupied by its resident who was witnessing the chase on TV.  The story not only dominated local TV, for  several hours it was the only thing on unless you went to a premium channel or one of the news networks and some were even showing Dallas in all our unsplendor… like another OJ chase.  And this is one of the points of this post – the resident of the house watching that same TV program and realizing that the suspect had wrecked just in front of his home and was headed his way, barely escaped his home just as the shooter entered from the rear.  The shooter appeared well familiar with the house.

After four hours and a few rounds of tear gas Dallas Swat officers captured the suspect who was hiding in a crawl space under the house.  Yours truly and much of DFW saw this all play out in living color – a replay of numerous such events that we have seen across our country.  You really can’t hide anymore…  Much of the video was provided by the local NBC affiliate’s Chopper 5 which we are assured was being streamed to DPD.  At some point in the future those helicopters will probably be obsolete, replaced by much smaller airborne drones all backed up by a system of remote surveillance cameras that will literally cover the country.  We are already well on our way to that end and are probably the better for it… This incident proved that.

By the way, the suspect whose guilt of the murder and shooting at DPD officers seems certain (we saw it on TV in live living color) is listed in the Texas sex offender list for two convictions of indecency with a child by exposure, one in 2000 and one in 2001. He was sentenced to a year in prison on both occasions. He was also arrested in January on a misdemeanor family violence assault charge. The court date for that case was scheduled for next week.  Looks like that charge has now been trumped with the capital murder charge…

Then comes the Boston Marathon terrorist attack masterminded and carried out by what we know now to be two real sickos.  The suspected terrorists are brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who like our “suspected” murderer above no doubt perpetrated the Marathon Massacre even as local law enforcement reflect that they have photos of their explosive drop. Their reaction thereafter and the murder/assassination of a MIT police officer demonstrate their arrogance and desperation. Tamerlan is now dead from his attempt to shoot it out with Police while brother Dzhokhar is now in custody.  Whatever their perceived grievance we have to wonder why they would murder and maim innocents and how they so grossly underestimated the resolve and strength of our law enforcement, our military and the American People. Both petitioned for asylum and accepted refuge and the hospitality of America only to turn to the dark side.  

Prior to their capture President Obama speaking directly to the perpetrators and all Americans proclaimed that the bombings were, “a heinous and cowardly act and make no mistake — we will get to the bottom of this.  And we will find out who did this; we’ll find out why they did this…  Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.” The Tsarnaevs were persons of interest almost immediately thanks to our surveillance network and the timely photographs and video of a concerned citizenry. And, hey how about some kudos for digital photography, social media, front facing infra-red cameras and the extraordinary interaction of law enforcement with all those key elements.  

Closer to home, on Monday the FBI and law enforcement officials of the State of Texas and Kaufman County appeared closer to identifying the perpetrators of the murder of Kaufman County District Attorney Michael McLelland, his wife Cynthia and Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse.  Former Kaufman Justice of the Peace Eric Williams had already been jailed for making a "terroristic threat" and appeared to the entire world that he was involved in the shootings as well.  Most in DFW feel that he was in the sights of law enforcement and the prime suspect in the aforementioned murders.  While this writer was finishing this post word came down that William’s wife Kim was officially charged with the murders ($10M bond) and immediately implicated her husband as the shooter who was apparently taking revenge for pursuing theft charges against Williams for stealing County property.  He has since been charged with the murders and with a $23M bond we are assured that he won’t be riding his Segway any more…

So, it was quite a Monday and I couldn’t wait to get back to work.  No, reality and the press of what seems now - more than ever - a world gone mad, wasn’t left behind.  It’s just good to be with Friends and people who care. The victims of these senseless tragedies are in our thoughts and prayers as well as the heroic Citizens of Boston and Watertown. Kudos to all law enforcement whether Federal, Commonwealth or local.  Well done.


Ned Buxton

Saturday, April 13, 2013


When I was with Equifax we had a Secretary who was much more than a note taker or appointment scheduler.  She was a valuable, indeed, key member of the Training & Development (T&D) and the Employee Relations Teams who eventually evolved her worth and position in the organization as a Planning and Training Coordinator (Thank You Bobbie).  When one realizes that her inaugural with the Retail Credit Company (predecessor to Equifax) in 1960 was concurrent with the presence of the last of the Retail Credit Company’s White Gloved Ladies – Bobbie was witness to substantial changes in the company’s corporate culture and business demeanor. Retail Credit was one of the premier Atlanta business institutions where proper young ladies who understood their place entered the very genteel business world. But all that is another story and one that needs to be told.

At Equifax many of the Secretaries belonged to organizations like the National Secretaries Association which morphed into Professional Secretaries International (PSI) in 1982 and later the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) in 1998 which sought to elevate the role of these key players.  PSI and IAAP have been major players reminding business about the importance of these key roles and to this day seek to enhance these administrative support positions and provide recognition and networking for their membership.  We guess there still may be some Secretaries out there though many became Executive or Administrative Assistants as business sought to more properly recognize the position and the significant role it plays in the operation of any company.  Now IAAP embraces a membership with a diversity of office and administrative support job titles at all levels of experience. We salute and thank them for their raison d'être and contribution to business efficiencies.

No doubt we sometimes see changes in job titles made because of political correctness to include stewardesses who are now Flight Attendants and fast food workers who become Crew Members or at one eatery even Sandwich Artists. Garbage men become waste management and disposal technicians while in an even more rarified launch - sanitation engineers.  I see it all the time in resumes where housewives have now become home or domestic engineers/managers (OK, OK - Domestic Goddesses) while cleaning personnel or custodians have been resurrected to facilities operators and dishwashers are now kitchen technicians (My first job was as a Pot Washer and I’m still proud of it). The insurance industry has also contributed to the confusion where old timey insurance agents are now Family Protection Consultants.  Your hairdresser or barber is now a stylist or even an aesthetic technician.  Your paper Boy/Man/Lady is now a Media Distribution Officer …and on it goes… We could bore you with even more politically correct (PC) and ego pleasing job titles.

Yes, the aforementioned border on the ridiculous (unless you occupy one of those slots) while In most other cases position title changes are the result of a change in that function, witness the fast disappearing telephone operator who has morphed into a customer service agent as that function has been automated.  Indeed, many supervisors have become “coaches” mostly because industry in all its myriad forms has proved that when a dynamic and focused coaching effort is directed to employee populations as part of a predictable and scheduled process, improvement including productivity and quality of performance of the team has substantially increased. We still embrace the Supervisor job title and concede mightily that coaching is a key function of that job. We need to continue to be smarter and able to better manage and collaborate with our most important resource – our People.

So this has been much more than just a, “silly shift in titles” for Secretaries who have become much more than the plebian ghillies that just made coffee, opened mail, took shorthand (Gregg of course), typed letters and entertained clients and guests.  As mentioned above they have become indispensable Executive or Administrative Assistants, et al who have improved on their ability to keep the wheels of business turning.  There are even some that have retained the title, Secretary, though with a different purpose, direction and a much more sophisticated position description.

Now some advice for those executives looking for something “between a mother and a waitress” - You have been born in the wrong era.  I do remember one prestigious law firm where I worked as Director of Personnel (yes, a long time ago) and where the legal secretaries routinely complained of having to engage non-business related tasks including everything from balancing their bosses’ checkbooks to other personal services all well beyond the now hackneyed, “and all other duties as required by supervision.” We know of one Japanese owned American company where some non-exempt staff (only females) were asked and obliged to perform non-work related tasks including walking the dogs of executives and picking up their newspapers at their residences – all off the clock.  Their American HR Director intervened, consulted with the Japanese President of the company and the practice was discontinued.

Those that abused those relationships exposed themselves to liability from several perspectives and could have negatively impacted their work culture and reputation in their communities, as well as their pocketbook. Thank God they failed and in no small part due to discrimination and labor laws and the evolution of more responsible business environments and decision makers that rose above and beyond that 1950’s mentality. The die was cast when the computer replaced the typewriter and mastery of the new tools that an evolving technology became a key requirement. While many secretaries were scared that the computer would replace them, they instead became masters of that technology thus insuring their future in at least those upper sanctums of business.

So, the answer to our question, Are there any Secretaries left? is a resounding, Yes! They have been reinvented as today’s administrative professionals who are multi-taskers, adept communicators with solid interactive skills and with great computer competencies able to handle from the mundane to legitimate and complex business tasks including research and the most sophisticated spreadsheets and record keeping supporting their mostly upper echelon bosses, freeing them up to perform more efficiently in their own macro worlds.  They lubricate and fine tune the machinery of the office and keep it functioning at a high level.  The noble Secretary has evolved just as business and industry have changed in the 20th and 21st centuries.  The men and women who occupy those posts will continue to adjust to meet an ever changing business need and we are all the better for it. 

Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen and all those of your ilk and God Bless and Thank You Bobbie Sue Lanham Blanton for your Friendship and great work ethic. Those best wishes would especially include one Betty Buxton who was a Lincoln School/Katharine Gibbs graduate, Private Secretary to two Governors of Rhode Island & Providence Plantations and the Senior Legal Secretary at Edwards & Angell (now Edwards Wildman Palmer) in Providence, Rhode Island. Yes, she is my Mom

While we may not celebrate a National Secretary’s Day anymore, that day like the position itself, it has evolved into Administrative Professionals Day observed this year on Wednesday, April 24th.  So, take that opportunity to thank all those that support your work, whatever their job title, and encourage them to pursue their careers by sponsoring them in organizations like IAAP.  You and your company will benefit greatly from your generosity and astute business sense.


Ned Buxton

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Following the Los Angeles Angels 3-2 defeat yesterday at the hands of the Texas Rangers, the not-so-forgotten former Rangers (now Angel) Josh Hamilton profusely spouted after the Angels loss.  His poor hurt little feelings conjured his reaction to most of the 48,845 Fans in sold out Rangers Ballpark in Arlington who were booing and taunting him almost in unison upon his appearance at the Texas Ranger home opener yesterday.  The only time the Texas Fans cheered was in recognition and appreciation of Hamilton’s 0 for 4 performance at the plate and his less than superb play in the field which certainly brought back memories of his last two games as a Ranger.

Hamilton reacted in a surprisingly naïve and arrogant manner reflecting that he was surprised how quickly the fans turned against him and then attributed his safe passage through his poor performance and negative reception by the fans first by the story of “Jesus being rebuked in Jerusalem” (Yikes!) and perhaps more appropriately to his kids. Now we applaud his Family and hope that they can see him through some equally hard times yet to come.

Seems that Hamilton has forgotten his many slams against Dallas and north Texas which include – his now famous statement that DFW was not a good baseball town.  He may be speaking for himself though the loyal 3.5 million fans that passed those turnstiles last year might take offense.  Today – they let Hamilton know how they felt and the big video board welcomed Hamilton to “Baseball Town.”  While we will concede that football may still reign in Texas the mediocre Dallas Cowboys appear to have lost the America’s Team label.

An egocentric Hamilton optimistically offered before the game that, "It will be mixed feelings from the crowd.  People who really get it will cheer and the people who don't will boo. Either way, I'll do what I got to do to help my team win."  I guess from his perspective very few in the stands, “got it.” He’s right and everybody else is wrong.

Those not familiar with the situation here in Texas need know that Hamilton’s insensitive remarks were the absolute burning bridge with Texas and one the Fans will never forget.  We have heard of other more inflammatory remarks made by Hamilton about Texas.  Following the game today Hamilton also deflected, “I’m glad I could help create spirit and fire in this town. This was louder than any playoff game that I’ve ever been to.”  It continues and, well, you get the drift… All this from a kid from Raleigh, North Carolina who was kicked around the minors in the Tampa Bay organization, a short stint with Cincinnati and then his mostly impressive but troubled tenure with the Rangers.

How could Hamilton forget his pitiful performance in the last regular-season game at Oakland when the American League West Division crown was at stake? Hamilton appeared to be dogging it in the most important game of the year and blew a routine fly ball, an error that would have ended the inning and ultimately cost the Rangers the game and the pennant. That botched play is still out there for the whole world to see in its nauseating detail on YouTube and a myriad other sports sites.

In the American League wild card game the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Rangers 5-1 to advance in the 2012 playoffs.  Hamilton’s sorry performance at the plate (0 for 4 with two strikeouts) was absolutely the last straw.  The Boo Birds were out in full force following that debacle with most thinking that Hamilton just wasn’t motivated and even worse – didn’t appear to care.  His impressive performance legacy for his five years with Texas drew a sobering contrast with the end of the 2012 season where Hamilton actually struck out 20 times in his last 46 at-bats as a Ranger. Following that game Hamilton hinted to his exodus to California by paraphrasing Matthew 10:14, “If they don’t receive you in a town, shake the dust off your feet and move to the next.”  Like an angry two year old he took his toys and ran out of town. It certainly appears to many that it’s all about him and he really doesn’t understand the risk the Rangers took and now the Angels assume.  Hamilton followed the pot of gold though ultimately many agree now that this move was best for Hamilton and The Rangers. Again, it’s all in the how he handled the transition.  

The word this writer heard on the street was that the Rangers unwilling to be enablers offered Hamilton a short term package (three years) with incentives where he would have “shared some of the risk” given his “special circumstances”. Hamilton declined. That failing the Rangers really didn’t want Hamilton back.  The fact that Hamilton never gave the Rangers the chance to counter the Angels' offer would suggest that he really didn’t want to come back either.  Works for us.

Beyond all of Hamilton’s 2012 late season performance issues was the reality that Ranger Fans had embraced and nurtured Hamilton as he negotiated his way through alcohol and drug abuse (several times) and an organization that could have bailed on him and cut him loose.  They didn’t and the Fans rose to his rescue only to witness what some feel was the false piety of being conveniently “born again” following a couple of his very public 2009 and 2012 escapades. Josh Hamilton is and will always be a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. Hamilton despite all his bombast is fragile and with all of his issues needs all the support, encouragement and supervision/monitoring he and the Angels (and their fans) can muster.

If Hamilton eventually comes to the conclusion that he wants to repair his relationship with Texans, he also needs to learn to keep his mouth shut (“I don’t care what people think.”) and also learn to better appreciate those who tried to help him when he was down.  This town became a village and helped him every way they could. Then he showed disrespect and insensitivity to folks who genuinely cared about him, his Family and his future. They may not have been the critical part of his intimate support group but they came to the Rangers games and rooted and prayed for him.  And then he left after lackluster performances the end of last season and followed with what was perceived as a personal affront and damage that he will never be able to repair unless he also learns some humility and apologies to those that cared for him most of all.

So, yes, this was more of a personal issue with Hamilton. The Fans feel they now see him as he really is though we counsel that tomorrow is another day.  So who cares about Josh Hamilton?  Despite all the rhetoric we all do and wish Hamilton and the Angels a smooth passage.    

Ned Buxton

PS - In this Saturday's Rangers-Angels game Josh went 0 for 4 again including two strikeouts.  The Angels, however, turned themselves around convincingly defeating the Rangers 8-4. Hamilton revealed that his wife who was sitting in the stands for Friday night's game with their children and had to call security because of taunting and some alleged harassment. Hamilton's wife and children returned to Ranger Stadium Saturday though accepted the hospitality of Ranger's management in one of their private suites.   Ladies and Gentleman if the allegations by Hamilton are correct, then we need to clean up our act.  We've made our point.  Time to move on and become the true fans we are...
Aye, NB