cultural fit

Does the suit fit you? Or do you fit the suit?

Cultural fit during the hiring process is often seen as a key criteria when recruiting. The more that employees align with the norms and values of their organisation, the more likely they are to exhibit greater commitment and feel increased job satisfaction.

If your team is going to have a chance at doing well, you need to recruit the right people.

Cultural fit isn’t just about values

Part of cultural fit refers to the values of an organisation and how they suit the employee. While this can make a difference, have you noticed how similar many companies’ stated values seem to be?

It’s not hard to find “integrity”, “customer focus”, or “leadership” amongst corporate values. But the many organisations stating these as their own values are very different. They must be, because a whole different set of people lead and work in each company.

Often I feel that cultural fit is targeted to these high-level goals and aspirations of an organisation. If an employee fits in well with these, then it is assumed that there’s a fighting chance for that person to do well. When you are actually hiring though, you need to go far deeper and more specific than this if you want to find the right fit.

Be transparent when interviewing to establish cultural fit

When interviewing candidates or being interviewed for a role, I have found that there can be a lack of transparency within organisations. While the interview process is not the time to inform a candidate of all the problems plaguing an organisation, it is a time to be up front about the challenges they’ll face. Then you can get a sense of whether they’re interested or not.

I once worked for an organisation where I noticed their job ads said they had a “fast-paced” environment. The only thing fast-paced about this place was the speed at which employees rushed for the exits when they had finished their eight hours of work.

If you’re recruiting candidates while hiding all the nitty gritty and pretending the organisation is something it isn’t, you can come unstuck. This is particularly relevant if you want to attract a high performer. High performers are far less likely to tolerate an unacceptable role because they have the skills, credentials and confidence to find other employment more easily.

To assess cultural fit, expose some of the details of how the organisation works. Then delve into the context of the role. It’s shortsighted to pretend there are no problems.

You want to discover these things about your potential new hire:

  1. Are they going to become frustrated or disengaged within the role; and
  2. Are they interested in taking on the challenges that the role or organisation brings.

Obtaining this information will depend on the candidate. Some candidates will be open and up front. With others, you may need to examine their past employment history to see what types of previous organisations or roles they performed well at. If you are transparent with a candidate, it improves the chances that they will open up with you.

Cultural fit: How the organisation works

An important aspect in cultural fit from my perspective is how an organisation works. There are a wide variety of factors at play here. Looking into these factors will give you a sense of whether the prospective hire will be suitable for the organisation in general.

I like to consider the following factors:

  • How are decisions made? Is it bureaucratic, heavy with committees and documentation for approvals? Or is it a little more fluid and rapid? Some people are happy with structure and bureaucracy, while others will rapidly get sick of it.
  • Is there a flat structure, or is it very hierarchical? Personally, I like some form of hierarchy in my teams and organisations. I’ve found that exceedingly flat structures can encourage power struggles or overly collaborative processes. Whatever your organisation has, you need someone who fits with that.
  • Is it a serious, or relaxed environment? Do people dress and act casually, or is it a more strict business environment? Often you’ll get a mixture in different situations, but it’s worth understanding the context your candidate prefers. Some people don’t need work to be “fun”.

Cultural fit: The context of the role

What is even more important is establishing the context of the role with the candidate. This is more than the role itself, it is the environment within which the person will need to operate.

Some examples to consider are:

  • Is it a rapidly changing environment, or is it steady? If your team or organisation is working in an environment of rapid change, candidates need to know this. Although change is challenging, some people thrive on it, seeing opportunity. Others hate change and would rather a team is mature and steady so they can get on with their work.
  • Is it a tightly confined role, or do you need them to get their “hands dirty?“. Some roles are tightly bound, and the employee will rarely need to deviate from their core tasks. Others are more fluid and an employee may be required to do work outside of their normal job description. Some people struggle with too much deviation from their core role, while others like the variety, becoming a jack of all trades.
  • Are the team structures and processes already established? You hire some roles to improve the standard of your team. To bring in experience that will help a team mature. Others are brought in to actually do the work, not to improve the way the team operates. If a candidate is expecting a mature, established environment and doesn’t find it, they could be in for a shock. Being open with a candidate about needing to improve your team isn’t anything to be ashamed about. It’s required to assess fit for the role.
  • Does the role have a mandate to change anything? If you hire somebody who is consistently seeking to improve and wants to make a difference, they need to have a mandate to make change. Otherwise, you might as well leave things as they are. Failing to do so will result in a frustrated employee.
  • Who is the candidate reporting to? As much as possible, you should allow your candidate to understand who they are working for. If they would be reporting to you, be open and honest about how you like to operate. If they would work for somebody else, give them a chance to meet. A bad leadership fit is one of the main reasons people leave organisations.

Use cultural fit to assess the longevity of your candidate

How an organisation works and the context of the role are key factors in assessing the cultural fit of your prospective new hire. Concealing important aspects of the work environment during the hiring process is not likely to result in a successful outcome.

You need to establish whether your candidate can tolerate your team environment. Or are they going to become a frustrated employee? Are they likely to enjoy working within the environment? Are they likely to feel they can succeed?

Failing to understand these points may lead you to restart the hiring process over again. Or worse, leave you with someone who hates working for you, but won’t leave.