New Hire Orientation Blog
Achieving Cultural Fit: How Far Should You Go?
- November 27, 2019
- Posted by: Sherman Morrison
- Category: Hiring
Every company naturally wants to hire people who are a good fit to the organizational culture of the workplace. When people fit the company, they are more likely to be engaged and to give you the high performance you need them to deliver. But if you push cultural fit too hard, you can wind up doing your company more harm than good. This article will explain why.
The Potential Downside of Hiring for Cultural Fit
I want to make it clear from the outset here that I’m not trying to get anyone to completely give up on screening candidates for cultural fit. I think it’s fine to do this, within reason. After all, anyone who has gone through the frustration of realizing that a new hire is turning out to be a bad “fit” for the company or organization knows all too well how painful it can be for all parties involved. It is often followed by clarion calls for better screening around cultural fit. But if you take this too far, you could seriously impair the diversity of your workforce.
If you push too hard to make sure every hire is a perfect fit, this could lead down a path whose final destination is a very homogenous workforce. The business case for diversity has been made well enough by others, so I won’t make it here, except to point out my own recent related article on the eLeaP blog: Creating More Inclusive Workplaces: Pathways for Progress.
Big data and analytics can also play a role in homogenizing your workforce. Once you figure out what makes for the perfect fit, machine learning algorithms can take over and help deliver only the candidates that fit the pre-determined profile. The insidious kind of homogeneity here is less about demographics and more about how people think. You could have a workforce that looks very diverse on the surface as far as gender, race, and ethnicity, but beyond that is by and large homogenous. What your business misses out on here is the creative friction vital to innovation when you have people who think differently and have different opinions. You’ll have a workforce that perfectly fits the mold when what you need are more people willing and able to break the mold.
This apparent conflict between cultural fit and diversity feels irreconcilable at first glance, but fashioning it as an either/or choice is too simplistic and binary. Instead, I recommend taking a both/and approach where you find ways to hire for both fit and diversity. Take a look at the core values of your company. It’s okay to hire for fit when you’re talking about values like integrity and so forth. But it wouldn’t be okay to hire for fit if that includes people who never “rock the boat” so to speak. You just have to be circumspect when figuring out what matters most to your company’s future without sacrificing the creative, innovative thinkers who might not “fit” so well, but could play a key role in moving your company forward.
Screening for Cultural Fit
Once you decide what your mix of fit and diversity is going to be, by all means screen to your heart’s content for fit, but do it with your eyes wide open. I recently read an interesting article on Entrepreneur by John Rampton about interview questions for cultural fit. He noted that because his company lives and dies by effective teamwork, he’s often more interested in how good a team player a person is than their outright qualifications. Several of the questions he routinely asks to ensure cultural fit are worth summarizing here:
- What was the very first job you had and what did you learn from it? While most people will talk about paper routes, babysitting, and mowing lawns teaching them about strong work ethic, what John’s keeping an eye out for with this question are more unusual, innovative, self-driven kinds of things, such as creating hand-crafted products and selling them locally and/or online. Something like that shows passion, drive, and creativity.
- You’re giving a tour of this company – where do you make stops? This question is nothing short of brilliant. Besides immediately giving you a window into how much homework a candidate has done on finding out about your company, they will also naturally point out what they see as the best aspects of the business.
- Why do you want to work here and what do you want to get out of it? How a candidate answers this question will say a lot about whether or not there’s enough of a cultural fit to move the person forward in the hiring process.
- How have you dealt with situations where you didn’t know what to do or how to do it? What you’re looking for here are signs that the person is comfortable taking on new challenges and quickly learning what they need to do to contribute, even when it’s outside their wheelhouse or comfort zone.
- When you need to delegate, how do you do it? If you want to hire people who might become future leaders, you’ll want to know if they delegate, and when they do, how they make it work. This can be a very revealing question. Be wary of those who say they don’t delegate because they do everything themselves.
- Who inspires you as a role model and why? This will give you insights into their values. If they hold strong values, they likely learned them from particular people, which is a good sign.
- What business would you start if you had the chance? Anyone who can readily describe an idea they have for their own business has the kind of entrepreneurial spirit you want, especially in any kind of startup environment.
- What’s your superpower? This is a more interesting way to ask the tired old question about a person’s strengths. By getting them to think of it as a superpower, it takes it immediately beyond the realm of standard strengths into something they are truly good at because it’s their superpower.
- When you fail, what happens? This is meant to get at how a person handles failure. Failures are inevitable – it’s what you do afterwards that really matters, such as owning it and learning from it.
Here are a couple others I came across in another Entrepreneur article by Craig Cincotta:
- How do you rely on others to make you better? Since there was already a more interesting way to ask about a person’s strengths, this is the question that indirectly reveals their weaknesses. After all, no one is good at absolutely everything. Everyone has areas that can be improved, and this question is a way of getting at those. Good candidates should be open and honest about their limitation.
- What motivates you to come into work every day? The answer to this needs to be more than picking up a paycheck, obviously. What’s music to your ears is when the answer has to do with anticipating needs, tackling challenges, and learning along the way.
Other Strategies to Screen for Fit
This might seem like a no-brainer, but screening for cultural fit necessarily means you know your organizational culture. But do you? It’s always worthwhile to make sure you can accurately describe the culture for which you want to screen. This would be especially important if you’re working with a recruitment agency or consultant. You might also consider making sure you observe your company’s culture. There can often be a gap between what people think the culture is and what it really is in practice.
It will also help if you develop a strong, clearly defined employer brand that shows people what the culture is. When you have a well-developed employer brand, this can help some people self-screen themselves out before they even apply because they can clearly see they’re not a fit for your company’s culture. If you have a company career portal, you could even develop your own self-assessment fit tool potential applicants could fill out to find out if they might be a fit before they apply for a specific position.
The takeaway: It’s okay to screen for cultural fit, just remember to keep diversity in the mix as well.