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When David Kincaid hires new staff, he’s not looking just for the best people for the job. He wants hires to be a good fit with the rest of his employees, too.

That hasn’t been as easy as it might sound for the founder and chief executive officer of Level 5 Strategy Group, a Toronto-based branding company.

While the firm has about 20 employees at any given time, it has seen too much turnover, Mr. Kincaid says. Two or three people leave every year, either on their own or by request, many not having lasted much beyond a year, he says.

The main culprit: Not being a fit with the corporate culture.

The problem is most acute with senior employees, who make up just less than half of staff, Mr. Kincaid says. In the last seven years, about 10 have left the firm.

Mr. Kincaid has found senior employees tend to come from more bureaucratic environments than what he’s tried to create at Level 5. He calls his company’s culture open, collaborative and flat. Newcomers, he says, “have to have the confidence to come in and be willing to contribute on Day 1.”

He tries to ensure he hires that kind of person. First, candidates usually sit with one of five senior partners for hour-long interviews. Then they meet the rest of the partners, either one-on-one or as a group. Then they meet with half of the rest of staff, often two or three at a time; these staffers then report their impressions back to the partners.

Corporate culture is always part of the conversation, Mr. Kincaid says. He’s come to believe that some hires just tell him what they believe he wants to hear, but once they come on board, he finds many of those who haven’t worked out have tended to be guarded, unwilling to share ideas, unable to communicate as well as he had hoped, and reluctant to socialize with colleagues or participate in informal events, such as team dinners.

“It’s a family,” he says.

“It’s impossible to know if someone’s a fit until they’re in the environment,” says Mr. Kincaid of his company, which generates about $8-million in annual revenue. “And in a small business, when we add a person, that can have a huge impact on the rest of the team.”

Mr. Kincaid thought he was doing a good job of articulating the company culture, but, with so many new hires not fitting in, he’s concerned he’s doing something wrong.

“I don’t think we’re either asking the right questions or putting candidates through a process that tests enough for fit,” he says.

Globe and Mail – April 25, 2012

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