The workplace culture renaissance began about a decade ago, in conjunction with the second tech startup boom. But its roots can be traced back much earlier, to 1975 with an organizational psychologist named John Morse. This psychologist found that matching people’s personalities to congruent jobs resulted in employees feeling significantly more competent. In other words, he was one of the first people to realize that matching jobs with personalities significantly impacts how well an employee works. Since then, a slew of studies have cropped up, all espousing the importance of organizational culture and how well it matches with new hires. One of the most important findings from all of these studies was that happy workers are actually more productive than unhappy workers— and unhappy employees are costing American businesses over $300 billion each year. Defining organizational culture and matching it to employees’ personalities literally pays.
Consistently ranked on Fortune’s list of the 100 best companies to work for, Whole Foods has cracked the holy grail of culture fit. We decided to chat with Melissa Simpson, Whole Foods Market Recruiter in Northern California and Reno, to figure out how Whole Foods has defined their organizational culture, and how they gauge a candidate’s fit.
How Whole Foods Defines Organizational Culture
One of the unique aspects of Whole Foods Market culture is its commitment to honoring local culture. This means that there are micro-cultures within every single store.
“The Whole Foods Market culture happens in all of our stores,” says Simpson. “But every store – just like every part of the Bay Area – has its unique take on that. We hire from the community and build stores that reflect and support that community.”
Whole foods emphasizes local culture both in its hiring and in its products. “We want customers to find local culture engrained with ours. For example, lots of our San Francisco Team Members are part of the Bay Area’s robust foodie culture,” says Simpson. “In the North Bay, lots of Team Members are most passionate about the environment.”
Whole Foods has published “Core Values” that emphasize employee satisfaction and happiness, in addition to a commitment to selling the highest quality organic products available. Like Zappos, Whole Foods has employee happiness embedded in their mission, alongside delighting customers. The suggestion is that you cannot achieve either without both.
Simpson believes that having the company’s core values published and talked about helps candidates gauge whether they would be a good culture fit before they even apply. “Most candidates are looking to work for a company that has the same belief system and values that they do,” she says.
Culture Fit Is A Two Way Street At Whole Foods
Ensuring that a candidate is a good fit with Whole Foods is just as important as ensuring that Whole Foods is a good fit for the candidate. Simpson describes the interview process as a “two-way street. We are interviewing the candidate, but they are also interviewing us to ensure our values are aligned with their own. We seek individuals who want to do something they love to do and can bring that passion to work.”
Employee happiness is a categorically good thing. Not only does it decrease turnover, but it also increases productivity. The Department of Economics at the University of Warwick found that happy employees are 12% more productive than the average worker, while unhappy employees are 10% less productive.
And the benefits of happy employees don’t stop at individual productivity. Companies with happy employees actually outperform their competition by 20%. Whole Foods has emphasized employee happiness through opportunity for growth, and an emphasis on individual strengths. Simpson says, “The core value that most resonates with me is “We support Team Member happiness and excellence.” For me, that means an environment that invites Team Members to thrive, where every Team Member can bring their true self to work. It’s a collaborative environment where Team Members can co-create their work experience.”
How To Hire and Interview For Culture Fit
Whole Foods has an extremely effective interview and vetting process, according to Simpson, and as a result they do not often hire people who are not good culture fits. “Great candidates share a background aligned with our mission and values; they’re supportive of what we do in and for our communities. The biggest indicator of culture fit is for the candidate to show us their belief system is aligned with ours,” she says.
There are several tangible ways that candidates can do this. Simpson says she looks for “someone who takes initiative during the interview process, shares a passion for food, or supports causes important to them in their own time.”
Whole Foods’ established and publicly touted organizational culture makes identifying these key components of a great candidate fairly simple. If the candidate’s values match the company’s values, then it’s a good fit.
As Simpson says, “Team Members tend to take pride in working for Whole Foods Market…Our culture recognizes and celebrates that, but we also constantly strive to improve.”