Culture Fit: Whose Responsibility Is It?

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Culture fit is an interesting topic. Some revere it, while others revile it. (OK, maybe not that extreme… but wasn’t that fun to say/read?!)

About a year ago, I wrote about hiring for culture fit because around that time I was seeing more and more revile than revere for this topic. The topic has resurfaced in recent weeks, especially as it relates to diversity and inclusion.

I’m a fan of hiring for culture fit. I believe people misunderstand its meaning and importance. Here’s an excerpt from last year’s post:

Culture fit simply means that employees believe in and align with the core values. I would also add that they are aligned with your mission and purpose.

I also saw a post recently that people leave cultures, not managers. Well, I believe they leave both, so it’s critical to ensure that employees are a good fit with the culture and with the hiring manager, and vice versa.

So, first things first. You can’t determine what culture fit looks like in your organization if you haven’t defined your core values and the associated behaviors. You’ve got to clearly communicate your mission and purpose, as well.

Once you’ve got your core values in place, the only way that hiring for culture fit can destroy diversity, creativity, and innovation is if those things are not already widely accepted and encouraged in your organization. Hiring for culture fit does not mean that you’ll only hire people with the same ideas or the same skin color. That’s just ludicrous.

With a hat tip to this month’s Insight Wave monthly member roundtable discussion, during which we talked about socializing and operationalizing core values and activating change with them, let’s explore another angle of culture fit. It’s the “and vice versa” at the end of the second excerpted paragraph above.

In other words: what is the employee’s role in the culture fit equation? If brands are doing everything to socialize, operationalize, and live the values – including incorporating them into the hiring process – what should a potential candidate do to ensure she’s a fit? The questions we must answer include:

  • What is the employee’s role in culture fit? (Yes, I repeated myself.)
  • What homework must the employee do?
  • Where should she go to research company culture? (e.g., sites like Glassdoor; Great Place to Work; the company’s own website, culture, core values pages; news articles about the company’s executives, business proceedings, etc.; and more)
  • What types of questions should the employee ask during an interview to ensure culture fit?
  • Who should she ask to speak with during the interview process?
  • Is it fair to expect that a candidate can/will speak to potential colleagues (not executives or the hiring manager) about the workplace and what it’s like?
  • Has the candidate considered that her core values align with the employer’s? How else is the employee aligned with the employer? (e.g., purpose, social responsibility, etc.)
  • Besides core values, what else should the candidate consider? (e.g., mission, vision, purpose, brand promise, corporate social responsibility, personal expectations, etc.)
  • What role does the employer have in ensuring that the employee did her homework and feels it’s a fit?

Clearly, some employees and potential employees are already thinking about culture fit. According to research by Robert Half, “More than one-third of workers in the U.S. (35 percent) and Canada (40 percent) wouldn’t accept a job that was a perfect match if the corporate culture clashed.” On the flip side, “Nine out of 10 U.S. (91 percent) and Canadian (90 percent) managers said a candidate’s fit with the organizational culture is equal to or more important than their skills and experience.

I appreciate this last statistic because experience and skills can’t be thrown aside in pursuit of your next employee (or your next job). Obviously, you start with interviewing someone with the right experience for the job, but if in the end you don’t want someone who doesn’t seem to work well with others (let’s say collaboration is a huge part of your culture), despite her qualifications, then she’s not the right hire. Similarly, for the employee, you’re going to interview for roles that match your skills and experience, but if in the end you don’t like the hiring manager’s approach to management or leadership or if you find that the culture isn’t aligned with your values (let’s say you’re looking for a company that puts family first), you’ll move on.

Whose responsibility is culture fit? As with everything, there are two sides to the story. In this case, both the employer and the candidate/employee have a role in ensuring culture fit.

Of the six critical elements of work fit, culture fit is the hardest to grasp. It is largely invisible, unwritten, and unspoken, but paradoxically, it causes employees the greatest pain, dissatisfaction, frustration, and failure to thrive. -Moe Carrick and Cammie Dunaway, authors of Fit Matters

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