"Culture" Is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year – For Good Reason

3 min read
May 6, 2015

This posts comes to us from Kevin Sheridan, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today best-selling author of Building A Magnetic CultureKevin’s newest product, PEER®, is consistently recognized as a long overdue, industry-changing innovation in the field of Employee Engagement.


Largely due to its tracking of which words were looked up the most during 2014, Merriam-Webster chose “Culture” as its Word of the Year. While “Culture” had one of the largest spikes in lookups, the words “Celebrity Culture,” “Pop Culture,” “NFL Culture,” Media Culture” and “Company Culture” also had big years.

“'Culture' is a word that we seem to be relying on more and more. It allows us to identify and isolate an idea, issue, or group with seriousness,” Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large for Merriam-Webster, said, elaborating, “And it’s efficient: we talk about the ‘culture’ of a group rather than saying ‘the typical habits, attitudes, and behaviors’ of that group.”

I am sure that most experts on employee engagement were not surprised by Merriam-Webster’s choice.

Legendary management expert Peter Drucker was one of the first to get it right years ago when he coined the phrase “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.”

Interviewing for Cultural Fit - Case Study With Google

Determining cultural fit in the interview process can be extremely challenging. When organizations are very large, it can be especially difficult to define what qualities make candidates mesh with a culture of thousands of people who are, essentially, quite different. 

When Google started growing at an exponential rate, its Senior Leadership had a “stroke of genius,” according to Russ Laraway, Director of Media and Platforms: they decided to define what it means to be “Googley.” By articulating this concept, it became much easier to assess whether candidates would thrive in Google’s environment.

The definition of being “Googley” includes:

  • Thinking big
  • Having a bias for action
  • Being a good communicator
  • The ability to work at a fast pace in small teams

By specifically defining what type of employees they were looking for, Google was able to attract the right candidates and build an extremely strong organizational culture. Laraway discovered, We began hiring people who were often more Googley than we were!

Revisit your definition of the perfect person you are trying to hire and carefully interview for these characteristics.


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Character Versus Skill

Of course, a candidate having both excellent character and skills is ideal, but sometimes people fall a little short on one end. Which aspect is a better compromise?

I would take the person with the right character any day of the week. Character is ingrained into the core being of who a person is and dictates how he or she will behave. It encompasses one’s ethics, values, dedication, motivation, and outlook. It is nearly impossible to alter a person’s character, for better or for worse.

Of course, as an example, if you are hiring a SEO Specialist and the candidate has never worked with computers, that would be too much of a stretch. However, if you want a candidate who can type 80 words per minute, you should not exclude the perfect candidate because they can only type 65 words per minute. A great personality and a high level of motivation will ultimately mean more than those 15 words per minute.

A magnetic organization should offer training for employees to improve their skill set anyway. New employees’ skills should be developed through training initiatives, regardless of their proficiency level. If you try to develop character in training sessions, good luck to you. 

Skills can be taught, but character cannot. Evaluate your recruiting process for valuing character and attitude over technical skills and aptitude.

And ensure that you are using the right behavioral questions to assess each candidate’s Cultural Fit with your organization.




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