Finding and hiring the best person for a job is a difficult task. The first challenge is simply finding qualified candidates who will be able to handle the position’s basic responsibilities. While evaluating applicants on the basis of skills and experience is hard enough, recruiters need to take their organization’s culture into consideration as well. Even the most capable candidate can turn out to be a disastrous hire if they’re not a good cultural fit.
Every company has a culture that defines its values, expectations, and processes. If the company is forward thinking, this culture has been cultivated over time thanks to a careful and considered effort. It is critical that a successful hiring process should consider cultural fit when hiring for key roles.
Culture Matters in Hiring and Retention
Once an organization defines its culture, it can turn to identifying what traits are most important for potential employees to possess. Finding someone well-suited for the organization’s culture is important because if the new hire doesn’t fit in with their team members, they’re more likely to become alienated and disengaged.
Even the largest and most resourceful companies can make this hiring mistakes. Take Apple’s 2012 hiring of former Dixon CEO John Browett to head up its retail operations. Even at the time of his hire, some outside analysts deemed him a poor cultural fit and predicted he wouldn’t last for long. Sure enough, Browett’s seven months in the position were marked with strife as he clashed repeatedly with Apple employees. Although the company did not elaborate on the reasons for his firing, Apple CEO Tim Cook would comment in a later interview that Browett was a bad cultural fit and that it had been a mistake to hire him.
A traditional interview process is often not sufficient to determine cultural fit. Candidates might seem like a good fit in the overly formal context of a one-on-one interview, but may exhibit qualities that prove disruptive to the organization’s culture after they’re hired. To avoid this problem, the interview process should incorporate multiple forms of assessment, such as personality tests and situational judgement tests. With the data from these assessments, organizations can construct a more comprehensive picture of a candidate’s cultural suitability.
Many organizations have sought to address this challenge by involving their current employees in the hiring process. From inviting team members into the formal interview process to setting up informal conversations and meetings, there are a variety of ways to let employees get a close-up look at the potential hire and decide amongst themselves whether or not they’ll be a good fit for the job. Interactions like this also provide different perspective on candidates, often giving insights that would never come up in a more formalized interview process.
Selecting the right candidate for the organization’s culture also greatly increases the likelihood of retaining that person for the long term. Employees who fit well with an organization and feel comfortable with their teammates typically have greater job satisfaction, produce higher quality work, and are more engaged overall. When employees feel at home within an organization’s culture, they’re more likely to see themselves as partners in the pursuit of common goals. This helps to create a sense of purpose, which drives engagement and imbues the work they do with a sense of meaning. All of these factors play a critical role in retention.
Emphasizing Cultural Fit Can Lead to Bias
But putting a strong emphasis on cultural fit can lead to problems as well. Unless formalized practices are put in place to anticipate and guard against bias, hiring to match an existing work culture can lead to discriminatory practices and a homogenous workplace that’s sorely lacking in diversity of any kind. Interviewers can very easily find themselves drawn to candidates who look and think like they do, while employees will naturally favor people who already share a great deal of things in common with them.
To combat this problem, many organizations have shifted from a “culture fit” approach to a “culture add” philosophy that seeks to enhance existing cultures by introducing more diversity. This reframing is similar to the concept of “values fit,” which focuses more on identifying candidates who share the company’s principles and values rather than on any specific traits. Both approaches attempt to emphasize finding people who will thrive within the organization while also introducing new ideas and perspectives.
Diverse Cultures Are an Asset and a Challenge
While there are good arguments for pursuing diversity for the sake of diversity, research has consistently demonstrated that diverse teams and organizations make better decisions and perform better than their less diverse peers. When comparing various groups to individual decision makers, inclusive and diverse teams make better business decisions 87% of the time, scoring almost 30% better than non-diverse teams. Furthermore, decisions made and implemented by diverse teams delivered 60% better results.
In order to reap those benefits, however, organizations must be willing to make investments in promoting diversity and making it work. Simply putting people from different backgrounds and experiences together will not magically produce better results. In fact, it might do exactly the opposite in the beginning. Diversity can generate a great deal of friction, but conflict can lead to beneficial outcomes when managed and resolved effectively. The importance of “value fit” becomes apparent here, as a commitment to the company’s core values and principles can serve as the common cause among team members who might not have many other things in common.
Organizational culture has a tremendous impact on whether or not a newly hired candidate succeeds and remains in their position in the long run. Recruiters and interviewers need to take that culture into consideration during the hiring process to ensure that applicants will be a good fit for the organization, although they must take measures to avoid unconscious bias. Promoting a healthy culture of inclusion can also help with the retention process by keeping employees engaged and committed to the organization’s value and goals. Organizations would do well to clearly define and promote the kind of culture they believe will put them in the best position to realize those objectives.