The Coffee Cup Test

6th June 2019
Elizabeth James
Partner & Head of Practice

The Coffee Cup Test

Recruiting the best talent for your business is a difficult and arduous task; ensuring candidates fit in with the culture of your business, even more so. Elizabeth James, Head of Berwick Partners’ Education Practice explains the interesting ‘coffee cup test’ being used to assess possible candidates.

There is currently a news story doing the rounds about an Australian business-man who uses an interesting test to see if potential recruits will fit with the culture of his organisation. He ensures that they have a hot drink or glass of water and then, at the end of their interview, he won’t consider appointing them if they don’t offer to take their cup back to the kitchen.  The firm has a culture of ‘wash your own coffee cup’ and if someone doesn’t instinctively embody this, in his eyes, they aren’t right.

Company culture is an incredibly important factor in creating a happy, successful workplace.  It can make the difference between high and low staff attrition as well as acting as a tool to attract the brightest and best.  It is fundamentally driven by the behaviours and actions of staff rather than words on a piece of paper and people interpret the essence of their employer’s culture in very different ways.

This makes it hard to understand how an arbitrary test on housekeeping can be a dynamic way of measuring ‘fit’.  Yes – manners are incredibly important and a workplace where everyone chips in to maintain an environment that is clean and comfortable is great.  Furthermore, no one wants to work with someone who believes themselves to be ‘above’ washing their coffee cup, but these factors are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to company culture.

Factors Affecting Company Culture

Firstly (and most importantly) homogenous environments don’t achieve all that they are capable of.  Differing priorities, styles, experiences and outlooks make for an interesting professional setting where orthodox thinking is challenged and there is appetite for innovation.  There is plentiful research that demonstrates how diversity in the workforce makes good business sense, so why create a situation where you could pass over a great appointment due to such a small act?

Secondly, people develop and change.  To assume that someone can immediately read the culture of your organisation is a big ask, particularly in the context of an interview where nerves run high. All of us have nightmares about committing social/ professional faux pas because at one point or another we will have perpetrated them; the point being that even if someone doesn’t immediately embody washing their own coffee cup, they can certainly learn.  Poor behaviours can and should be challenged and healthy workplaces do so on a daily basis.  A culture where it is possible to appropriately call someone out is far more powerful than one that can’t countenance anyone with a different outlook.

Finally, finding good people is hard.  Very hard.  Why would you want to put in place a barrier that stops you welcoming people into your organisation?  At Berwick Partners we are not afraid to challenge clients who risk disadvantaging themselves in their quest for talent.  The underlying principle is to enable the highest calibre appointment possible via a rigorous and transparent process.  Assessment can take many forms; but rest assured that none of them involve washing up a cup of coffee.

For more information please contact Elizabeth James, Partner and head of the Education Practice at Berwick Partners, specialising in recruiting academic and professional services leadership appointments across the Higher Education sector.

Categories: Education