Expert Advice for Medium and Midsize Businesses

Need Top Talent? How to Attract Better People With Culture Stories

Jason Richmond
Chief Culture Officer and Founder at Ideal Outcomes

Culture is becoming increasingly important to a company’s ability to attract and retain top talent. And that means that recruiters must be adept at communicating effectively about their culture to prospective employees. In short, they must be able to create and communicate compelling culture stories.

Why Culture Stories Matter to Today’s Talent

So what’s a culture story? It’s the story of what matters to your organization, told from the perspective of its people.

Once upon a time, it didn’t matter so much whether an organization had a compelling story to tell prospects. A good paycheck and benefits package was usually enough to attract and keep an employee bound—by “golden handcuffs”—to the company for most of their careers.

But today, employees are more mobile. They’re digitally connected to opportunity through social media and professional networks that span industries across the globe. That’s part of what’s causing employee retention rates to fall with each generation, even at the best companies. They are also more digitally connected to work through mobile phones, email, direct messaging, and collaborative chat platforms and are asked to give more of themselves to their work. “Nine to five” has turned into “24/7.”

In return for giving more, employees want more in return. They want a purpose that aligns with their personal purpose. They want opportunities to be part of something larger than themselves. They want to do work that matters, in a place that treats them like they matter.  They want a culture that makes them want to get up and work every day.

Your culture story is how you communicate that sense of purpose and belonging.

Identify Your Culture Story

To tell an your culture story effectively, you first have to identify what that story is. Culture is how your organization operates: it’s a combination of purpose, values, people, and habits. Culture stories reflect what matters to your organization, and what makes your culture unique.

In any story, it’s important to include the “5 W’s - Who, What, Where, When and Why.” In a culture story, those are the questions that you must clearly answer. The “W’s” for your organization’s culture story include:

  • Why do your people do what they do - what’s your organization’s guiding purpose?
  • What do people believe? What are they inspired by - what matters? What do they value? Does it (or can it) align with your organization’s beliefs.
  • Who do you hire? What personal attributes are needed for success? It’s important to point out that the “who” aspect of your culture story does not mean you should hire people that all look, think, and act the same. But there may be some overarching traits that will be more successful at your company than others. Hiring managers need to know what these are and how to screen for them.
  • Where are your offices located? Is it a suburb or an urban area? What is the actual office space like? Workplaces that value openness and collaboration, for example, may be able to demonstrate those values in the way their space has been designed. In addition, candidates even want to know about logistical concerns that might affect their experience such as parking and transportation.
  • How does your organization work? What habits are shared in your organization? These might be reflected in things like hierarchy (or lack thereof), management principles, or approaches to business challenges.

Your current employees can help create your culture story. Online surveys can be used to gather insights, but generally, to avoid coming up with answers that sound rote and boilerplate, you’ll need to dig a bit deeper. One-on-one conversations with employees around the company can help flesh out answers to tough questions about purpose and values. Some organizations hold a “purpose jam”—an organization-wide project to discover purpose.

The key is to get a variety of viewpoints. Broad participation is needed to truly understand how to tell a culture story that will engage the various types of talent you’re looking to hire.


Learn how you can add value to your talent strategy to find and keep great employees.


Share your Culture Story

Many times, organizations talk about vision, mission, and culture in ways that seem dry and corporate. Other times, the story might sound great, but isn’t realistic. Your culture story should never be boring, nor should it be fictional. Fiction may work to attract talent, but it’s doomed to failure when employees discover that your organization’s culture has been oversold. This inevitably leads to issues with retention, or worse yet, hiring an employee who doesn’t really bring value to the organization.

That’s why it’s essential that these stories reflect the actual experience of working in your organization. According to the LinkedIn Global Talent Trends survey, honest perspectives are very important to candidates, along with employee views. Candidates want to hear the truth—both the positive and the negative—about working for your organization.

Finally, it’s not just what you say in your culture story, it’s also how you say it. Don’t just hand candidates a brochure or a booklet. Tell your culture story using the media that candidates find most engaging. Use social media, blog posts, videos and behind-the-scenes vignettes that demonstrate the employees’ viewpoint around what makes your organization a unique and rewarding place to work.

The Last Word

Just as every company has a culture, they also have a culture story. It’s crucial to communicate that story, using your employees as your star storytellers. Ultimately, your culture is an amalgamation of what your employees experience. When you uncover the culture stories your people are living and share them with prospects, you’ll be able to answer the number one question today’s talent wants answered: “Why should I work for this company?”

If your organization has overcome the plateau effect, we want to hear from you! We’re looking for contributors for a new book “Beyond the Plateau Effect.” If you can answer the question, “What role does culture play in your success?” visit our website to share your story. We would love to hear from you.

Be the first to comment

Comments ( 0 )
Please enter your name.Please provide a valid email address.Please enter a comment.CAPTCHA challenge response provided was incorrect. Please try again.