Culture-First: Hiring Candidates Based on Belonging

 

The following is an excerpt from The 50: HR Leaders Reimagining the Filipino Organization. Authored by Ezra Ferraz, this chapter is titled, “Culture-First Hiring Candidates Based on Belonging.” In it, Emerson Villarante, the Vice President of HR & Corporate Affairs of Century Pacific Food, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in selecting candidates based on their fit within company culture.

The vast majority of companies in the Philippines hire based exclusively on academic and professional achievements. Even as culture becomes an increasing focus of the workplace, very few consider the culture-fit of candidates. To the extent that some do, most tack it on as an additional data point rather than hold it up as one of the primary ones.

When companies do not consider culture-fit, they may - on one extreme - end up with toxic employees that sap the energy of those around them. The Philippines, after all, is considered one of the most emotional countries in the world, and there are still people unable to successfully separate themselves from their work. Such people may be overly emotional, passive-aggressive, or unnecessarily political. 

Companies who do not consider culture-fit will much more commonly hire perfectly fine people who for some reason or another don’t fit with the greater organization. Neither the company nor the individual is at fault here. There are just some people who work better in certain environments over others, and this particular match was less than the ideal one we all dream of.

Century Pacific Food turns this problem on its head by hiring for culture-fit first. 

“While many companies take pride in hiring the best talent, we hire the talent that has the best fit. These are people who really fit into our culture. Most people see Century Pacific Food as a really big company, the truth is that we are really more entrepreneurial in the way we do things, and it takes a certain kind of person to thrive here,” said Emerson Villarante, Vice President of HR & Corporate Affairs at Century Pacific Food.

Century Pacific Food did not always hire this way. Like most other companies in the Philippines, they primarily choose candidates in the past based on their knowledge, skills, and experience. But while those are important, even the most talented person will have trouble adjusting to a particular organization’s way of work, including its systems, procedures, and processes. 

In the case of Century Pacific Food, it might be the lack of those things, as Villarante discussed in how the company operates.

“Our people like to make things happen. If they’re faced with an obstacle, they find a way to work around it. If they think something can be improved, they find a better way to do it. That’s why it was a struggle for some people to adjust here because they really need to look for creative, out-of-the-box solutions,” said Villarante.

This kind of culture dovetails from the founder, Ricardo S. Po, who started the company in 1978 as Century Canning Corporation, focused on processing, manufacturing, and exporting tuna products. Although Po had come from a poor upbringing, he managed to lead Century Canning Corporation - through sheer grit and hard work - to the success that it is today.

Century Pacific Food is still known most for its tuna brand, Century Tuna, but the food conglomerate has more than fifteen other brands, including Argentina (beef loaf), 555 (sardines), Century Quality (bangus), Birch Tree (milk), Wow (assorted meat dishes), Shanghai (luncheon meat), Kaffe de Oro (instant coffee), Hunt’s (pork and beans), and Coco Mama (coconut cream). The company, in other words, has crafted a place in almost every nook and cranny of the Filipino kitchen.

While diversification has been good for business - Century Pacific Food is a publicly listed company on the Philippine Stock Exchange - it has made defining their employer brand for the culture-fit talent it wants to attract considerably more difficult.

“Part of the challenge is that we are not one singular company - we are composed of multiple brands in multiple industries. How do you build a central narrative for the market? As a whole, Century Pacific Food is known for healthy and affordable food, but it’s not easy maintaining this brand image. You have to be consistent,” said Villarante.

He further explained that building this strong consumer brand is directly connected with the organization’s employer brand.

“To be known for healthy and affordable food, we must highlight in our employer branding that we are an entrepreneurial company. Our people have a passion for discovery and experimentation, which allows us to improve our existing products and create new ones that also advance this core mission,” said Villarante.

Because organizations the size of Century Pacific Food are not typically known for their openness to experimentation, this employer brand is bound to attract many candidates. At this stage, many will already self-select - the people who are not entrepreneurial will not apply to an entrepreneurial organization. But how does Century Pacific Food vet the candidates who do apply to ensure they are truly a culture-fit? 

Before even the technical exam for positions like accounting or information technology, there is a panel interview for applicants. Led by the hiring manager, the panel includes one or two other managers as well as other stakeholders the role may work with. “The goal of this panel interview is to not only assess their knowledge, skills, and capability but how they would fit in with the culture of the company based on their attitude and personality,” said Villarante.

 

To get more insights from other HR leaders like Emerson Villarante, please check out the full book, available for purchase here


The 50 - and other business books about the Philippines and Asia Pacific - will soon be streaming on Audiophile, our platform for exclusive Filipino audiobooks.