Culture Fit and Engagement

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What we can learn from U.S. Naval Academy’s Approach to recruitment & retention

I’m a sucker for documentaries. Particularly ones related to sports, like 30 for 30 or Last Chance U. So, it’s really no surprise I was completely sucked in by A Season with Navy Football. But this isn’t an advertisement for the series. Rather, it’s a reflection on two questions posed somewhere around episode four:

  1. Why do these men and women come to the Naval Academy?
  2. Does the culture of the Academy shape its people or do the people shape the culture?

The importance of culture fit

It seems to me, if the men and women seeking to attend the service academies have a strong desire to lead and serve, they are already inline with the existing culture.

Then, I pondered, “If the men and women align with the culture of their selected service academy, are they more successful as a result?” Interestingly, “with 96.0 percent of students staying on for a second year, the United States Military Academy is one of the best in the country when it comes to freshman retention” (College Factual). For comparison, the average first to second year retention rate is 72.0 percent nationwide.

The reasons why college freshmen leave after their first year range from financial challenges to homesickness. Additionally, many freshman who leave after their first year of school feel a substantial lack of support. (An area where the service academies truly excel.)

Culture fit is critical. But just because someone “fits in” with an organization or academic institution, doesn’t mean they will be successful. They must also feel supported and valued as an important member of the team.

Creating the conditions for success

In a recent Entrepreneur article, author Todd Davis stated, “Contrary to popular belief, leaders can’t make someone highly-engaged. But they can create the conditions for high engagement, in which people choose to bring their best.”

It all starts with recognizing the differences and similarities between our team members. Through data, we can identify who may be a good fit for a job, how supervisors should adapt their management style for different team makeups, as well as emotional intelligence, engagement, leadership capacity, and cognitive agility for employees at every level of an organization.

Similar to how the Naval Academy requires a preliminary application, many organizations request job applicants to submit a behavioral or personality assessment. This assists recruiters and hiring managers in narrowing down their candidate lists. Ultimately, the process concludes with an interview to confirm culture fit.

The numbers suggest this methodology works yet many organizations aren’t doing enough to ensure job and culture fit. Furthermore, once these organizations hire talent, most do not have a people strategy in place that encourages ongoing employee development and engagement. Perhaps that’s why in a recent report from Achievers, only 19% of workers feel engaged in their workplace and up to 64% of people surveyed may leave their jobs this year.

The need for talent optimization is real

Like the Naval Academy, organizations with a strong intentional culture tend to attract the right talent. But it’s not enough to recruit better and hire smarter. Consider how your organization can deepen loyalty and engagement with team members through compelling career paths, opportunities for development and ongoing support.

If A Season with Navy Football taught me anything (other than why I should cheer for Navy against Army), it’s that culture can make or break a team. Everyone needs to be “all in” on the goals of the organization, which means communication is everything. And, when something doesn’t work it’s the responsibility of the manager and the organization as a whole to either pivot and shift the strategy or develop a new way to support team members that helps them become more successful.

What stood between the head coach’s strategy for the season and his goal of beating Army? His team. It’s hard to win a game with no players on the field.

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Interested in learning more about talent optimization? Read this blog post from ADVISA President Heather Haas, “The Missing Link: Talent Optimization.”