HR & Cultural Fit

Today we talk with Amanda McKenzie ( and Chuck Olsson ( from the First United Human Resources department to discuss human resources and cultural fit. How important is it to ensure that you have and hire people in your business who fit your culture? We discuss how to find the right people, steps to take and how to maintain that culture once you've hired associates.


Man 1: Welcome to the “What Matters Most” podcast, presented by First United Bank & Trust. That’s My Bank. Visit us today at

Eric: Hello, and welcome to “What Matters Most,” a podcast all about finances, community, savings, and security, for you, your family, and your business. This podcast is brought to you by the helpful folks at My Bank, First United Bank & Trust. I’m your host, Eric Nutter. And in today’s episode, what matters most is human resources and cultural fit. And for this helpful discussion, I’m thankful to be joined remotely today by Amanda McKenzie, human resources services manager, and Chuck Olsson, chief human resources officer at First United Bank & Trust. Hey, Amanda. Hey, Chuck. How’s it going?

Chuck: Good. Good morning.

Amanda: Good morning, Eric. How are you?

Eric: I’m doing very well. I’m doing really good. And I appreciate you both joining me today for this conversation. It’s kind of a good topic to talk about. We have had a focus on this topic for quite a few years internally at First United, and Chuck and Amanda, you have been a huge part of that. The subject of the culture of the organization and how you can ensure that the people that you’re recruiting into your place of business is an important one because you obviously want them to reflect that same kind of culture, that same kind of brand. So, I really appreciate you both joining today to kind of talk through this and see how that kind of approach to hiring and recruiting can benefit local businesses. And so, we wanted to just talk through some of that with you and get your thoughts and opinions, so does that sound like good plan?

Chuck: Outstanding. Looking forward to the conversation.

Eric: Excellent.

Amanda: Sure does.

Eric: All right, so let’s start off. So, branding, obviously, is an important aspect in what we do. We’re very passionate about our brand, and we want to make sure that it is lived and breathe through the associates that we hire. So, tell us a little bit about, Chuck, why knowing the brand is important in recruiting?

Chuck: Yeah, it really is the most important thing that you do in terms of attracting candidates to your organization, you know. The brand, the culture of your organization is what distinguishes you, not only in terms of, you know, what you’re trying to be to your customers, but also to the type of employee that you’re trying to drive into your company. So, it really is a deeper understanding of what culture is, and my definition as it’s always been around, it’s the values of the people, the personal values of the people that work in that organization. So, yeah, the branding approach then is really kind of marketing the values of the people that work inside the company.

And why this is important is that as people look to an employer and they want to know kind of what it’s going to be like to work there, they’re going to understand, whether it’s conscious or not, what those values are that they possess that they’re going to want to find in their co-workers. So, you’re right. All of your values then have to be understood. You know, values are important to know because these are the things that are basically what we behave towards or act on. And again, as we are looking for people to join our team, we want people that have a common set of values and shared values with us.

So, your alignment then, and your branding activities need to really kind of reflect what that culture is. So, you know, it’s not only in terms of what you have to understand from a recruiting standpoint, it’s really what’s required as an organization to have to, you know, to perform at the high levels that you’re looking for. So, you know, having a well-defined value statement inside your company not only serves as the basis to build your branding and your recruiting campaigns around, it’s really what’s required to have these high-functioning teams. You can’t be a high-performing company without really understanding what those values are. And then, you know, it really is the primary reason why you’re going to attract and retain employees in the first place.

Eric: So, can you give an example of kind of how you’re seeing it, and compared to what the values are representing? So, like, inside the organization, we have a value statement. Here are the things that we believe. When you’re in that process of recruiting, is there a way that you’re trying to identify those things in the people that you’re looking at?

Chuck: Yeah. And I’ll have maybe Amanda talk a little bit more about the interviewing process, but, you know, it’s really where do we start looking for them? So, we’d launch a brand campaign, and we either do this through our website, where either the wording that we’re putting in there, the images that we use, we specifically use a video content to really help reflect what those values are, and yeah, they’re defined. We’ve met as a leadership team to understand what those values are. We write them, we live by them, we incorporate them in a lot of the things in our company, but the number one thing that typically happens in recruiting people, it’s, you’re using your own people as a source of referrals for those people.

Every company that I have ever looked at, ours included, is when you looked at the number one source of your best candidates, it’s the ones that are being referred by your own employees. Now, how does that happen? Well, if you’ve hired people with the company’s values system, and they have shared values, then the people they’re going to refer are probably going to be like them in some way, because they like them. There’s a connection to them already, and that’s the one that’s probably going to be brought into the door in the first place. So, we put a lot of effort then in terms of sourcing candidates through our own employees, as opposed to just, you know, blank marketing into various media outlets to try to find people. That’s still successful and effective, but the real ones come from your own referrals, both either your own employees and/or your managers to put them into position and give them training and processes to look for people that have those values.

Eric: That makes sense. It’s a reflective kind of thing. So, you find people, and then those people…kind of it builds on itself. It’s like a snowball effect.

Chuck: Yeah. Yeah. But it only happens if you have them defined, because it’ll happen naturally if you didn’t, but boy, I’ll tell you what. The tool is when you really sit down, primarily from the top of your company, your CEO, your executive group, working with groups of employees to define the company’s culture through a value statement. And we have something called an employee value proposition, that really is something that we use integrally in our marketing and our advertising, that people, when you start talking, like, “Yeah, this is kind of why I’m here,” and they come out of the interviewing processes feeling really good, because they’ve started to experience those shared values with the people that they might work with.

Eric: Right. Absolutely. So, Amanda, let’s talk a little bit about that interview process. How do you incorporate the brand and the values of the brand into the interview process as you go through that with a candidate?

Amanda: Yeah, absolutely. So, one of the most important things to do is to identify kind of the attributes and the competencies for the person that you’re looking for in that position. So, for example, here at First United, we have a role called relationship advisor. So, those are our frontline folks that are working with our customers on a daily basis. Some of the things that are very important for that person to be able to do, and we’re looking for in an interview, you know, are they outgoing? Are they communicative? Are they able to, you know, kind of be influential and persuasive? Are they curious? You know, do they like to learn new things? Are they able to tell us about that based off of some behavioral-based questions that we would ask? Do they seem like they’re a learner and they like to share their knowledge? Because one of the major things that a relationship advisor does at First United is they have to educate our customers on the products and the services that we have available at First United that might be a solution to the problem. So, they need to be curious enough to want to learn about the products, use the technology in the products themselves, but be passionate about the products to be able to share that information with our customers.

Another thing that we look for in our interviews that might be a little different than other employers is, you know, are they actively involved in their community? Do they have a passion for making a difference and giving back? First United’s all about making our communities a better place. So, that’s important for us, and potential employees that are coming in, because that’s naturally going to radiate out of them. So, other employers may not ask those questions, but that’s definitely something that we incorporate into our interviews, because we’re looking for those service-oriented folks that want to be able to make a difference. And if we identify all of that in the interviews, then that’s naturally going to radiate out to our customers and fulfill our brand during the interactions when the customers are in our branches.

Eric: Yeah. Yeah. That’s cool. Working here, it’s been really gratifying and satisfying to see that process kind of evolve over the years, because, you know, that wasn’t always the way we’d kind of approach things. And when we went through the branding exercise, Chuck, to your point, to try and identify those things and document it and really understand who we are at the core, all of the things that sort of naturally made up the family within the organization kind of bubbled up to the top, and those were the items that became part of that process. And it’s been really cool to see, and now, for it to be codified down to an interview process that, we’re looking for these things, and if you represent those elements, you’re probably going to fit in pretty well here. It’s pretty cool to see.

Chuck: It is amazing how this translates to the value proposition for the customer, because, you know, especially in the banking industry, I’ve always said bankers and customers typically have the same value system, and you’re right. It’s an organization that markets itself to be a certain type of bank only can happen with a certain type of employer that shares that value system, but you’re right. The customers have the same values that the employees have, and that’s why it works, and how you can basically be a bank that’s been around as long as our bank has been, because we’ve lived by those values for decades.

Eric: Right. Right. Well, and to be fair, I mean, you have to…You know, for businesses out there that may be trying to figure this out, you have to have that understanding of who you are naturally and not try to force it, because if you’re trying to force it, it’ll come off as not genuine to the customers out there. They have to understand that it is coming from a genuine place, and this is who they truly are as a business. So, I thought that that part’s important.

Chuck: Yeah. And you see a lot of that in industries as a whole, over-promise and under-deliver, because you’re probably not living by the values that you should be.

Eric: Exactly. Exactly. So, Amanda, back to that interview process, is it just a one-and-done kind of thing, or are there multiple steps to kind of identify those values within a candidate?

Amanda: Yeah. And that’s actually a good question. And I can say we have changed our processes since the rebranding as well, to kind of make sure that we’re getting the right person in the role. So, here at First United, we do not just do one interview and hire. Most of the time our interviews are starting with just an initial phone screen, so we can have a conversation with our applicants to start to kind of learn a little bit about them and start to rate the attributes to the position, and to First United’s brand. We also do first and second interviews. In some positions, we also have a simulation that we might use to help us kind of assess some of that behind the scenes. How does the person, how quickly do they learn? How well do they relate with customers? And then we also use something called manager-led reference checks. So, that’s where our managers are actually calling their previous managers and talking with them about how they contributed to their team.

So, our approach here at First United is, you know, take it a little slow in the beginning, to make sure that you are hiring the right person, that you’re hiring an A player, kind of the best of the best that you’re going to be able to get in your market, for that position, because you want the person to come in and stay with your company and do a nice job. So we make sure that we meet with the applicant on multiple occasions, and that not only gives us time to learn about that applicant, but it also gives that person time to learn about First United.

Eric: Right.

Amanda: They should be interviewing the company as much as we are interviewing them, because they’re making a decision for their future, so we don’t like to rush that process. We definitely like the employee to feel the way we want our customers to feel during the process or the interactions that they have with our associates during a transaction. So, we kind of mirror that, but the answer to that question is definitely not a one interview and make a hiring decision based off of that.

Eric: Yeah. Well, and I think that’s an important point to recognize for businesses out there that might be trying to understand how they’re going to shift that dynamic internally. You know, there are businesses out there that go even further than we do. And I know we’ve talked internally about companies like Zappos, that will go through very long interview processes, essentially, like months, and months, and months, and months to go through training, and then even at the end of that, offer cash to just leave, because if you’re willing to take the cash to leave, then you’re clearly not in it for the culture, and the brand, and the values that this company stands for. And I think that, understanding how important culture is to making a company successful, and for people to recognize that, for customers to recognize that, it takes a lot, and it’s an important aspect to it.

Chuck: It’s always amazing to me how when you see companies that do the opposite, is that, you know, this is a relationship that you’re going into. If you have the understanding that you want a long long-term employee, and you treat it like a marriage, you know, you’re not going to do it on one meeting, you know. You need to be doing that over the course of time. And really, when we talk about our employees, and especially our hiring managers bringing people in, we would prefer that they’ve had interactions with them for months prior to an act of employment opportunity, where they’ve really gotten to know them, and understood them, and putting them into the situation where those conversations aren’t driven by the act of an interview, which, you know, depending upon certain people and their profiles, they can get through them, where, you know, what you’re really trying to do is get a better understanding who they are. So, yeah, Amanda has outlined our process, which is really more of a relationship-building opportunity for a long-term employment decision. But yeah, it should start way back to, you know, having a network of people that we engage, and when there is an opportunity, we bring them into the process a lot quicker, because we’ve been talking with them for months ahead of time.

Eric: Right. Well, that’s the difference between a relationship/career than just a job and a paycheck and…

Chuck: There you go.

Eric: …finding those…

Amanda: Correct.

Eric: …career people, career-minded people and relationship-minded people, it’s going to serve a business better in the long run, so…

Chuck: Yeah, absolutely.

Eric: So, speaking of the long run, after you go through that hiring process, so you found the person, they’re coming on board, they met all the…They checked all the boxes. They look like the kind of person that’s going to fit the culture, the brand, the organization that you’re building. In your experiences, how have you ensured that those people continue to understand that beyond the handshake and the signing on the dotted line kind of thing? How do they ensure they understand the brand values and mission?

Chuck: Yeah. And, you know, back to the point of why you do this in the first place, is, is it’s just something that you want to document and then slap it up on a wall and say, “This is our company value proposition and this is what our employees believe,” or is it something that really have to become part of the company’s consciousness, and in the conversation. So, you know, from the HR perspective, yeah, we have built a number of activities and resources that help kind of drive it into the psyche of the company, but it really starts with, you know, the fact that management has to have this conversation on an ongoing basis about what these values are and how they really drive our business model.

And if that starts to take place, then it becomes just a natural extension of the things that happen when you onboard and orient your employees. So, for us, you know, we have built our orientation or onboarding program around kind of introducing them to the culture, and it’s really kind of a slick process, because the parts that I teach within it about the company’s mission, it always amazes me about how companies take something as important as their mission statement and just don’t give it the right level of focus for employees coming into the company. But yeah, we have a specific process, a day-long process, where it really starts with the CEO sitting down with the new hires, describing, in her view, the vision, and what her personal values, kind of the core values of the company. We do introduce our mission statement as kind of a review. The one thing that I have always thought has been fascinating about company mission statements is that nobody really understands where they come from when they really go into practice. And what we teach is that the collective mission statement of a company is nothing more than the personal mission statements of the people that work there.

So, we actually take our employees through an exercise to help them define their personal missions based on their values, their experiences, their beliefs, their visions, and how they tie to the larger picture of our company. And then, yeah, it usually wraps up then with a group exercise then, where, as we introduce these core values to them that they are able to bring kind of their personal experiences to them in terms of how they’ll actually live the values within the company. Very structured process. We like to do that within the first 90 days, to make sure that it’s kind of baked in. It’s a great exercise, because we get a lot of validation back that they’ve already been in the company for a few weeks or a couple months, and they’ve already seen the values in practice, because they are lived on a daily basis.

But then yeah, there’s other ways that we do it, and probably one of the more important ways is that we do tie it to our performance management system, that we then, on an annual basis or on a quarterly basis, in terms of our coaching protocols, you know, really have conversations about, you know, the behaviors [inaudible 00:19:25] so that they get reinforcement and recognition, that the values that they’re living by have found a way to translate to the performance expectations in their job.

Eric: That’s cool. Yeah, it’s a neat process to see, and, you know, I think from a brand and culture standpoint, it’s a never-ending job. You constantly have to try to reinforce, and engage, and cultivate that brand and that culture to ensure that it lives on into the future, otherwise, it could start to divert. It could start to disintegrate.

Chuck: I have always called it “Framed Whatever,” whatever somebody from the HR department or the marketing department says is the mission, the vision, and the values, it’s just a bunch of words. So, you know, how do you make the connection? And that connection has to be at a very personal level. And it’s amazing when we talk about value systems of people. Our values are taught to us at a young age, and they’re kind of hardwired by the time we’re in our early adult and, you know, late teens, but they are so vital to an understanding of a company, because all of our behaviors flow from our values. So, you’re right. If we just put a bunch of words on the wall and salute to it and say, “Those are our values,” which I think is what the majority of companies do, they don’t leverage it, and it’s the most important thing. You know, people come to work for a purpose, and that purpose is their mission. So, yeah, we take an opportunity in orientation programs to make sure we touch that nerve, if you will, so that they understand why they’re here, and especially when you have the CEO sitting down with them, because then they hear it from her.

Eric: Yeah. Yeah. It’s [inaudible 00:21:06].

Chuck: And that’s the leader at the top doing it. Imagine how the guy that’s walking in here that’s maybe haven’t seen a CEO before feeling about it, and it really bakes it in.

Eric: Exactly. Well, Amanda, are there any other ways that you see brand being reinforced that can be helpful to our listeners who might be interested in this topic?

Amanda: Well, the one thing I wanted to touch on, Chuck started to talk about kind of our evaluation processes. So, if companies are doing quarterly coaching sessions or annual evaluations with their employees, just the importance of, you know, making sure that your brand and those values are incorporated into whatever their goals look like, or if it’s core values, so that that way you are talking about it on a quarterly basis, their goals are motivating that behavior and that activity to happen, and kind of drive the culture, but then also the results that the company needs as well. You can kind of marry those together, and I think that’s one thing that First United has done that maybe other companies wouldn’t think about. So, I wanted to make sure that we took a little time to talk about that.

And, I mean, it’s just amazing. When you get all of this right, chuck was talking about that personal mission statement activity that we do. If we hire the right folks, we can have complete strangers sitting in a room, and we usually try to keep it to about groups of eight, so that’s small, and an intimate setting. But when we get to that activity, they almost all have the exact same answers. And that’s reinforcement that Chuck and I, on the interviewing front, we’ve done a nice job of trying to make sure that we get the right people in the door, that align with the brand and the values of First United.

Eric: Right. Yeah. And I think, to your point, we talk about this a lot internally, and I think the way you’re referring to it is is explaining the why, and making sure that people understand the why. Why are we doing the thing we’re doing, and how does it tie back? And that comes in the form of goals or efforts that we’re doing, just making sure everybody understands there’s a reason for this, and it all ties back to the core of the culture, of the brand, of the values, and there’s a reason behind all of these efforts, these activities, these things that we’re doing, because it all adds up to the bigger picture of presenting the company and the culture in a certain light to our customers.

Chuck: You know, the top performer, well, Amanda mentioned is what we call the A player, will not come here without a compelling reason to do so, and the biggest compelling reason is is that we have answered the question why. And that’s a great point, Eric, because companies who spend time figuring out what their why is has a much stronger chance of recruiting top talent than somebody who, as you said, will just come to get a paycheck and won’t put the passion and the energy, and that they really want to have to distinguish themselves and achieve their goals, quite frankly.

Eric: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, Amanda, Chuck, thank you sincerely so much for joining us today and providing such helpful insights. I think this was a really valuable conversation for businesses out there that are trying to get a handle on their culture and understand how they can propel their business further by hiring the right people, getting the right people in there that represent the culture the best way. And I think it’s helpful, it’s awesome to see internally, it’s helpful for businesses out there to understand how helpful it can be, so I appreciate your insights. If any of our listeners have a question or want to learn more, maybe they, you know, want to kind of start down this path, but they’re not sure where to get started beyond what we’ve said here today, what’s the best way they can get the support they need?

Chuck: They can. and they’d reach out to Amanda or I directly through our email contacts, but obviously, you can come through the bank’s website, and we’ll be glad to reach out and work with any company that’s looking to kind of get a program started like this, and will be more than welcome to share our knowledge and our experiences to get them off and running.

Eric: Awesome. Yeah. And I’ll make sure your contact info is available in the show notes, but like Chuck said, you can just go to the and reach out. But that brings us to the end of our show. You can always find more episodes by visiting, or find us on your favorite podcast app. And we’re on pretty much every podcast app there is right now, so it’d be great if you would subscribe and give us a like, give us a five-star rating so that more people can find this helpful content. That really do us a big favor. You can also leave us feedback, ask questions, or request a topic for us to discuss by sending an email to You can also send your questions there for Chuck or Amanda, and I will make sure that that gets passed along to them. Thanks again for listening. We’ll be back next week with more helpful content. But until then, we wish you the best in focusing on what matters most to you.

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