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Chemistry Lesson: Using Science to Select Culturally Compatible Contractors

By: Leslie Stevens-Huffman

Although managers usually select contractors for their engineering experience, research shows that cultural fit influences a professional’s ability to maximize their accumulated talents and skills even on a short-term basis.

A study by Leadership IQ Why New Hires Fail revealed that 46 percent of new hires fail within 18 months, and that 89 percent of these new hires fail not because of a lack of technical skills, but due to a lack of the right attitude or the right cultural fit.

Of greater concern, 82 percent of managers admit that they overlooked a candidate’s lack of cultural fit during the interview process. And those who strive for synergistic alignment often mistake personal chemistry with a contractor for cultural compatibility. Or, they describe their view of the environment and then ask the engineer for a “thumbs up.”

chemist woman with chemical glassware flask isolated

Take the guesswork out of hiring by using scientific methods to identify culturally compatible contract engineers.

Size Up Your Culture

Research from McKinsey reveals that managers often read their organization’s culture very differently than other employees do, typically exaggerating the significance of their own leadership style.

A culture is constantly evolving, and there is a complex set of shared norms, unwritten rules, assumptions, behaviors and expectations that govern the way employees work and interact with each other.  Therefore, the quest for like-minded contractors starts with an honest perception of your environment.

An anonymous survey is one way to get an accurate read. If that’s not an option, assemble a task force and charge them with identifying key aspects of your environment, such as risk taking, innovation, autonomy, transparency, work-life balance and teamwork by answering questions like these.

Determine Compatible Traits and Behaviors

Determine the traits, behaviors and work style that characterize well-suited contractors by using personality tests to assess the personalities of highly performing contractors and staff. Are the best contractors enthusiastic? Are they calm under stress and emotionally resilient? If you don’t have the time or budget for formal assessments, charge a task force with developing a hiring profile. Need help getting started? O*NET ranks the importance of attributes and work styles for various engineering positions on a scale of zero to 100.

Develop an Assessment and Scoring Methodology

Although some firms administer a test to assess a candidate’s cultural fit, most use behavioral interview questions. However, failing to ask consistent questions or consistently evaluate candidates’ responses will inject bias into the evaluation process and produce mixed results.

Replace subjectivity and opinions with more objective data by developing a list of questions and a scoring key or rating scale to help interviewers grade candidate responses. Start by identifying questions that probe for desirable traits and define excellent, marginal, and poor responses using a five-point scale. The totaled ratings from each interviewer makes it easy to compare candidates on the merit of their responses.

Remember, you shouldn’t eliminate a contractor based on the results of a personality test or assessment. But research shows that interviews that employ specific questions to evaluate a candidate’s cultural fit, and having a way to evaluate their responses, improves the accuracy of selecting the best engineers. Now that’s science!

We enjoy your opinion of our articles and the overall PEAK organization.  Please feel free to post comments below.

Other information of potential interest

Five Myths about Co-Employment

10 Must-Follow Tips for Becoming a Highly Effective Engineering Manager

Insightful Interviews: Favorite Questions Asked by Engineering Managers

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2 thoughts on “Chemistry Lesson: Using Science to Select Culturally Compatible Contractors

  1. This is a wonderful workaround for one simple concept. Professionalism. There are definite cases where people do not fit, but employers should not need to take into account a person’s hobbies or social leanings in trying to accomplish a task with a human. It is the employee’s job to get the work done with as little drama as possible.

    Sorry, but I am not interested in the drinking habits, political inclinations etc. of the person next to me as I do not live for the office.

  2. This is a wonderful workaround for one simple concept. Professionalism. There are definite cases where people do not fit, but employers should not need to take into account a person’s hobbies or social leanings in trying to accomplish a task with a human. It is the employee’s job to get the work done with as little drama as possible.

    Sorry, but I am not interested in the drinking habits, political inclinations etc. of the person next to me as I do not live for the office.

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