Why you need to define cultural fit before you start recruiting

Just what is cultural fit? According to the definition from Harvard Business Review:  

Cultural fit is the likelihood that someone will reflect and/or be able to adapt to the core beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours that make up your organisation.

Now if you are reviewing the literature on cultural fit, there is no general consensus on the subject matter. Some experts think that cultural fit will reduce diversity in the business and since diversity is critical to future sustainability, there should be more focus on experience or skills.

Other experts stress the importance of cultural fit, citing statistics such as 89% of employees leaving due to cultural fit and 80% of employee turnover is down to managers hiring people who are a bad fit.

In our opinion, the reason why cultural fit is getting such a bad rap is because there is a misunderstanding of what cultural fit actually entails.  Most managers get it wrong – thinking that cultural fit means:

  • Hiring someone that is like them;
  • Hiring someone because you can imagine hanging out in the pub with him or her after work.
  • Hiring someone on personality traits such as extroversion.

Now the problem with such an approach, is that effectively you are using cultural fit as a shield for discrimination. When hiring managers feel that a potential hire ‘doesn’t fit in’, it might simply be the fact that they are different to them.

An interviewer’s perception of fit, namely the public test, also means that you are focusing on ‘playmates’ not more skilled professionals which can contribute to the organisation. In the long term hiring ‘clones’ is going to be detrimental to the future of your organisation.

Instead of hiring someone like you, or hiring someone because you can imagine hanging out in the pub with them, you need to make sure you take the following steps, so you are not relying on subjective judgments and biases, when assessing whether someone is a cultural fit or not.

Define the Culture

Even if you are starting out, you need to define your company’s culture.

  • What is the corporate ethos and values?
  • What is the personality of the culture? Is it a laid back and cooperative culture, or hyper competitive?
  • What are the core values that all team members should possess?
  • What is your company’s purpose?
  • What are the shared assumptions that guide the whole organisation?

After all, you wouldn’t decline a candidate due to a lack of a skill, without first specifying the skill required. That is why you need to define you culture, so you can measure this during recruitment process.

Use a checklist to evaluate whether the candidate truly fits

Instead of trusting chemistry and mistaking this for talent, implement a structured interview   process and create a formal procedure such as checklists for measuring fit, so that any assessment is not subjective and based on the interviewers biases.

Use a diverse interview panel

Don’t let an individual conduct the interview, as you risk the hiring manager hiring someone in his or her own image. We all have inherent biases – most of them are not intentional, or conscious biases. With a diverse panel of interviewers, these biases can be diluted and hopefully a more objective decision will be made.

By taking some steps to define culture and then to measure fit in a rational way, it is less likely that you will discriminate based on cultural fit.  When done carefully cultural fit can make organisations more productive, but only if you realise that cultural fit does not equate to rejecting people that are not like you.

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