Using Company Culture to Guide Your Talent Acquisition

Chris Sullens of CentralReach discusses his outlook on using company culture to drive the hiring process.

While cul­ture is some­thing all team mem­bers help grow and par­tic­i­pate in with­in a sol­id orga­ni­za­tion, it should be a key part of the hir­ing process as well to make sure that bad cul­tur­al fits can’t dis­rupt team spir­it and cause good peo­ple to leave.

This was one of the key points Chris Sul­lens, CEO at Cen­tral­Reach, recent­ly made on an episode of The Brag­Wor­thy Cul­ture pod­cast. Cen­tral­Reach pro­vides end-to-end soft­ware that sup­ports the deliv­ery of applied behav­ior analy­sis and relat­ed ther­a­pies for autism and IDD care at home, school, and work. This soft­ware can help peo­ple achieve bet­ter out­comes, live more inde­pen­dent lives, and unlock their potential.

In 2012, Char­lotte Fudge was a prac­tic­ing Board Cer­ti­fied Behav­ior Ana­lyst (BCBA) who was drown­ing in man­u­al work like paper billing, clin­i­cal data col­lec­tion, and clin­i­cal report­ing. She looked in the mar­ket­place and couldn’t find a soft­ware solu­tion to help her save time and improve client outcomes.

So, like so many entre­pre­neurs before her, she built her own solu­tion. The out­come even­tu­al­ly became Cen­tral­Reach, which allowed her and so many oth­er BCBAs to spend more time with clients. She even­tu­al­ly sold the com­pa­ny (and is still a Cen­tral­Reach cus­tomer herself).

Chris had been CEO at anoth­er tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny for over a decade and was cho­sen to come in as CentralReach’s CEO in 2018. He saw where the com­pa­ny had already gone and had a sense of where it could go and was excit­ed about the opportunities.

Change Management

One of the first things that Chris did when he arrived was meet the top-lev­el lead­ers to learn more about how the com­pa­ny had grown in the way it did at the speed that it did; it had the suc­cess it did for a reason. 

Rather than putting him­self for­ward as the guy who was going to come in and make sweep­ing changes, Chris focused on lis­ten­ing and show­ing appre­ci­a­tion for the work that had been done before. He asked the lead­ers what they were doing, why they were doing things a cer­tain way, and why things had been suc­cess­ful. He also asked them what they thought should be done dif­fer­ent­ly to improve.

In this way, Chris not only gained a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the tech­nol­o­gy, but also put him­self in a posi­tion to inspire those lead­ers to fol­low him on the jour­ney to take the com­pa­ny to the next lev­el. He was able to take those con­ver­sa­tions and weave togeth­er a com­pa­ny nar­ra­tive for growth that includ­ed many voic­es, not just his own.

Bad Hires

At the same time, Chris made some hires ear­ly on that he then had to quick­ly exit because they lacked an atti­tude of appre­ci­a­tion and coop­er­a­tion. Instead, they act­ed as if the world start­ed when they walked through the door: Chris notes that if you don’t let those peo­ple go right away, they can do real dam­age to morale and culture.

Chris says that such employ­ees often dis­play two sides: a flat­ter­ing side to their supe­ri­ors that makes them easy to man­age, but a ter­ror­iz­ing one to their report­ing team mem­bers. These bad actors lack humil­i­ty and often play the blame game when some­thing goes wrong.

Management and Hiring

One way to ensure that bad hires don’t make it into the com­pa­ny in the first place is for man­age­ment to be involved in the hir­ing process.

Chris says that man­age­ment often believes that involve­ment in work and tasks is fine but that it’s bet­ter to let the team han­dle inter­views. But his own expe­ri­ence and research have shown that bad cul­tur­al fits can get through when man­age­ment is not involved in hir­ing, and this can lead to problems.

When Chris is part of the inter­view process, poten­tial hires often tell him that despite hav­ing worked at oth­er com­pa­nies for many years, they nev­er met the CEO. Meet­ing him dur­ing the hir­ing process real­ly makes an impact and has been impor­tant dur­ing the company’s growth from about 80 employ­ees when Chris start­ed to almost 400.

Dur­ing inter­views, Chris can shine a spot­light on the com­pa­ny cul­ture and demon­strate that Cen­tral­Reach isn’t just mouthing val­ues post­ed on a wall some­where but liv­ing them through the inter­ac­tions of the entire staff with each oth­er and customers.

A Yellow Light in Interviewing

In the inter­view process, Chris some­times notes what he calls a yel­low light;” some­thing that gives him pause, which is a lack of curiosity.

Chris knows that job inter­views can be tir­ing and that some peo­ple don’t ask every ques­tion they might be pon­der­ing because they’re ner­vous. But if a can­di­date has no ques­tions at all when Chris asks if they have any, it might be a problem.

If it’s not ner­vous­ness, it might indi­cate a lack of curios­i­ty about the cul­ture of the com­pa­ny. And if can­di­dates aren’t inter­est­ed in the how and why of the com­pa­ny, they are prob­a­bly more focused on the what and when of the pay­check, which isn’t the sort of play­er Chris wants on his team.

Diversity and Inclusion

As pres­sure mounts for com­pa­nies to take stances on pub­lic issues, Chris finds it’s impor­tant to make sure that such issues get dis­cussed inter­nal­ly, even if those issues are chal­leng­ing to talk about. By cre­at­ing aware­ness of and appre­ci­a­tion for dif­fer­ent views, team mem­bers are also remind­ed that they serve a neu­ro­di­verse cus­tomer base, and to always act with empa­thy when offer­ing those cus­tomers solutions.

To fur­ther height­en aware­ness, Cen­tral­Reach brings in out­side speak­ers. For exam­ple, recent­ly a Black woman who is on the spec­trum and a BCBA came in to share her sto­ry and the chal­lenges she has faced. Diverse speak­ers help team mem­bers get greater con­text for the work they do every day.

A Final Thought

There’s so much more that Chris shared (make sure to lis­ten to the episode if you’d like to learn more) but he left us with a reminder that cul­ture is (and should be) a liv­ing, breath­ing organ­ism that evolves over time. 

It’s nev­er done, or han­dled,” or over.

Lead­ers in orga­ni­za­tions need to do what­ev­er they can to help nur­ture, feed, and grow cul­ture. As Chris not­ed, that includes being part of the inter­view process before team mem­bers are hired, lis­ten­ing to them when they are hired, and show­ing appre­ci­a­tion for what they do

Check Out the Full Episode

Are you inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about Chris Sul­lens and tal­ent acqui­si­tion? Lis­ten to the full inter­view by tun­ing into the pod­cast on Apple or Spo­ti­fy.

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