cultural fit-1

How often have you heard the phrase 'he's a good cultural fit' or 'she will fit well within the team' or 'I like her but just not sure she is us' ?

Quite often I imagine.... but what does any of this mean and why is it so important in the hiring process for organisations?

A study by the American Sociological Association indicates that employers in interview are often very focused on hiring someone they would like to socialise with rather than finding the best person for the job. That's not to say that this is to the detriment of having the necessary skills but that employers are disposed to thinking on a similar level to which they make friendship/partner choices i.e. Do they have a similar level of education? Did they go to a similar school? Do they enjoy similar activities? Do you enjoy talking to each other?

Admit it, we've all as interviewers, experienced or otherwise, been distracted by the candidate who supports the same football team or has a shared friendship base at the gym.

The study goes on to say that the level on which cultural fit is important will vary across professions, occupations, the level of social interaction and the amount of structure within the interview process. After all would you hire a brain surgeon based upon team fit...unlikely.

First off let's understand the background:


So, What is Cultural Fit?

Like people, businesses have a personality.

A company's personality can be seen as the values and beliefs of the founders through to the collective force of employees, interactions between management and staff and the environment in which they conduct their business.

Cultural fit is the likelihood that someone will reflect and/or be able to adapt to the mission statement, core beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours that make up your organization. A 2005 analysis revealed that employees who fit well with their organisation, co-workers, and supervisor had greater job satisfaction, were more likely to remain with their organisation, and showed superior job performance.

Many employers have increasingly recognised the importance of hiring people who have the personality and business attributes that match the values, beliefs and attitudes of the organisation i.e. that there is a culture fit.

Sue Shellanbarger summed it up perfectly when asked how she viewed cultural fit:-

What it is: 
  • Shared enthusiasm about a company's mission or purpose 

  • A common approach to working, together or individually 

  • A mutual understanding of how to make decisions and assess risk

What it's not: 
  • A common educational, cultural or career background 

  • A sense of comfort and familiarity with co-workers 

  • Shared enjoyment of such perks as ping pong and craft beer 


Unfortunately, many  think consciously and subconsciously, of the "not" list when interviewing and assessing cultural fit. This is referred to as confirmation bias, which is the tendency for interviewers to interpret new information as confirmation of their existing beliefs or biases.


Why is Cultural Fit Important?


Here are 4 key reasons:-


 1. Staff Retention
staff retention 2
It doesn’t matter how good someone is at their job; if they don’t fit in or perceive that they fit in, ultimately they won’t be happy and it could lead to disagreements, toxic conditions and ultimately resignation. One of the main reasons for leaving is often cited as not fitting in to the company culture.
2. Staff Engagement
Where employees are bought into a company's values and beliefs they are much more likely to be engaged, work hard and go above and beyond increasing the chances of both individual and business success.
3. Improved Productivity & Performance
Quite simply, teams with common goals and objectives aligned to those of the business are more likely to produce better results.
4. Improved Communication

Organisation bought into a strong culture will undoubtedly be more effective and open communicators with their staff which identifies with employees who are subsequently happier, perform better and have greater job satisfaction.


How to assess Cultural Fit? 

Lou Adler believes that cultural fit is the primary driver of motivation and on the job performance, the significance of which cant be underestimated. Adler suggested there were 5 key measures to look for in the process to assess:


1. Pace

Adler believed the pace of a Company was a key consideration. The fast moving company in a cut throat industry would need to 'duck and dive' and change direction, implement improvement programs  more frequently than the more stable beauracratic organisation , which is slow to change. They would warrant different personalities he felt.


2. Structure

Structure is different to pace in that some large heavily structured organisations like Microsoft, Amazon and Apple are heavily structured but are flexible and can respond quickly to changes in market conditions. So its important that potential candidates are questioned in their approach to structure.


3. Managerial Fit

In practical terms this is key because if this relationship doesn't work, the organisational buy in is irrelevant. So its critical to understand the previous significance and fit with the hiring manager and the potential hiring manager to ensure the fit is right.


4. Job Fit

job Fit

The need to clarify job expectations using a performance based job description is key to success , otherwise you risk having the wrong person in the job. Adler recommends the job description listing between 6 to 8 performance related objectives to be achieved to be successful in the role. The applicant can then be competency based interviewed against these success criteria in their previous roles.


5 Adaptability

 It is a given that the most adaptable people are going to be the best hires as there will be more growth potential with them. At the same time few people will excel in all environments , roles and organisations and under different managers so you will need to performance interview and understand the success criteria underpinning their achievements.


Example Questions to ask around Cultural Fit 

These are example questions that will help you assess culture fit at interview:

  • What type of culture do you thrive in? (Does the response reflect your organizational culture?)
  • What values are you drawn to and what’s your ideal workplace?
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • How would you describe our culture based on what you’ve seen? Is this something that works for you?
  • What best practices would you bring with you from another organization?
  • Do you see yourself being able to implement these best practices in our environment?
  • Tell me about a time when you worked with/for an organization where you felt you were not a strong culture fit. Why was it a bad fit?

You can assess the candidates’ work ethic and style by honing in on the following: whether they succeed in a virtual environment or with everyone in the same space; if they’re more comfortable with a hierarchical organisation or can they thrive with a flat structure; and if they tend to collaborate across teams or operate in a more siloed approach.

Also on a practical level why not expose candidates to what it would be like to work at your organization by giving them a tour of the office and an initial opportunity  to see how employees at all levels interact with one another. Watch out for whether  the candidate’s comfortable with this and gather initial feedback from staff. The candidate whose behaviour and values are consistent with your organization will naturally rise to the top.


The Counter Argument to the Cultural Fit Approach

Those who are sceptical about the concentration on cultural fit believe that it leads to unconscious bias in the decision making process.

In an age where the most common method for assessing interviewees is still the unstructured job interview where good chemistry and rapport that interviewers get from candidates comes to the forefront in the process despite trying to subjectively judge candidates. This 'unconscious bias' comes to the fore adding to the risk of potentially the wrong person being hired for the role as they favour the "they get me" or "they're just like me" option. 

The cultural fit approach if allowed to continue could lead to a team similar in age, experience, gender, race, background and technical expertise which may be good for "team harmony" in one aspect but how does it allow for the culture to develop if the organisation is continually employing like minded people? It can certainly inhibit demographic and cognitive diversity in the organisation and prevent the Company from thriving. However, by hiring people with diverse experiences, ideas and backgrounds different to the perceived norm this can positively impact your Company Culture.

An example of a company now looking to increase their diversity and move away from the culture fit model to create a more inclusive hiring process is Facebook. They banned the term “culture fit” when providing feedback on what interviewers liked/disliked about a candidate, requiring interviewers to provide specific feedback that supported their position. They reviewed their interview process to proactively identify unconscious bias and took steps to remove them from their process.

They restructured their interviews to focus on alignment with their five core values and developed a “managing unconscious bias” training program, which they’ve since made available to the public. While this training is not mandatory, almost 100% of senior leadership and over 75% of non-leadership employees have voluntarily completed the courses.

Although the interview process of many organisations remains littered with pitfalls and without apparent clear goals and objectives which prevents consistent quality hiring decisions being made, organisations need to reflect on their goals, processes and desired outcomes and design their structure around these to allow their hiring process to flourish.
Why not download our hiring checklist to help you on your way.


Can We Help? 

We have placed and filled over 100,000 temp and permanent assignments over the last 30 years so have a range of techniques, ideas and platforms which could help you. Why not call us on 0113 367 2880 to have a conversation with one of our team. Alternatively drop us an email here or check out our Testimonials and Case Studies.


About the Author: Mark Woffenden

Mark Woffenden is a Director at Lucy Walker Recruitment and has an extensive knowledge of the issues and workings of the West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester Commercial markets developed over the last 20 years in the Industry

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