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

Culture is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year by @HRTMExec and @ kevinsheridan12

This post has been contributed by Kevin Sheridan, the Chief Engagement Officer of Kevin Sheridan LLC. If you’d like to be a contributor, please contact us.

Culture is Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year by @HRTMExec and @ kevinsheridan12

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 look-ups, 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:  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, and the ability to work at a face 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 corporate culture.  Laraway discovered, “We began hiring people who were often more Googley than we were!”

The company grew from 2,500 to 25,000 employees in only six years, Google’s unique culture flourished, building one of the most well-known magnetic cultures around the world.

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

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?  Do you hire the person who has years of experience executing the job duties, but seems slightly off in regards to cultural fit?  Or do you hire the person whom everyone on the team loves, but will need some additional training to improve his or her skill set?

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.  Skills are things that are learned.  If a person has everything you are looking for as a potential employee, but he or she does not have the exact skill set desired, it would be prudent to still consider that person for the position.

Of course, as an example, if you are hiring a Search Engine Optimization 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 he or she 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, character cannot.  Evaluate your recruiting process for valuing character and attitude over technical skills and aptitude.  Online retail giant Zappos made this famous, by actually having two separate interview teams, one for attitude and the other for aptitude.  

Call to Action:  Ensure that you are using the right behavioral questions to assess each candidate’s Cultural Fit with your organization.

Kevin Sheridan is the New York Times Best-Selling Author of Building a Magnetic Culture, the Author of The Virtual Manager, a frequent Keynote Speaker, and the Chief Engagement Officer of Kevin Sheridan LLC. Find him on Twitter at @kevinsheridan12 or on LinkedIn at

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