Talent Management: Culture Fit Takes The Lead

A March 2009 study on talent management trends published by the Aberdeen Group showed that “organization fit” also known as “culture fit” surpassed other hiring quality measures for the first time. According to the report, this trend suggests that companies are now looking for employees who will stay longer and have the ability to adapt and grow with the business over time.

While the concept of “culture fit” gets a lot of attention for being one of the most important considerations when hiring, companies frequently do a poor job in defining and evaluating culture fit. When the economy creates a headwind for companies, hiring mistakes can set a company back significantly.

Why culture fit is so difficult to assess?

Too often, clients describe their culture to me with generic statements like “it’s a ‘work hard’ and ‘play hard’ environment” or with adjectives that describe employees as: “passionate”, “friendly”, and “driven”. What’s worse is when clients tell me that when it comes to assessing culture fit, they will just “know it when they see it”.

It is not just about adjectives that describe someone’s personality or what people do on the weekends. Culture fit is defined as the degree to which a candidate’s personality, values, interests, and work style match up with the company values, norms, job function, and overall work environment.

The bottom line is that if culture fit is not adequately addressed, it becomes a wild card in the hiring process.  Interviewers will naturally base their candidate feedback on ill-defined personal preferences and beliefs about what they think it means to be a culture fit.

So, how can your company do a better job of assessing culture fit? Here are 6 suggestions:

1. Get everyone on the same page.

Being deliberate about culture and linking it to the business strategy and ultimately the hiring process can be a huge source of competitive advantage. A company culture can be defined by anyone who is a part of it, but it is more authentic when defined by a collective of individuals at all levels within the company. For it to be leveraged effectively, it should be directed and supported from the top down to ensure alignment with the values, long term strategy, and goals of the company.

2. Avoid looking through rose-colored glasses.

Hiring expert and author of “Hiring Success: The Art and Science of Staffing Assessment and Employee Selection”, Dr. Steven Hunt warns against seeing just the positives. He states, “If done right, there are negatives for every positive”. For example, a culture that is highly respectful and conflict averse may not be a good fit for someone who values constructive criticism or for someone who sees conflict as a healthy organizational dynamic. This approach will help solidify what culture fit really means for your company.

3. Great culture fit does not equal great performance.

Most hiring mistakes happen as a result of an inadequate interviewing process. Remember that culture fit is just one dimension of a comprehensive selection process. Culture fit and performance can be mutually exclusive. This means that an extraordinary culture fit can have ordinary performance.

4. Learn more about your candidates.

Develop the interviewing expertise in your organization and use a consistent process that includes a feedback loop. A comprehensive selection process will integrate the culture fit components into a structured interview process and may incorporate a realistic job preview project, and appropriate assessments such as the Hogan or the Occupational Personality Questionnaire to help better inform decisions and improve quality of hire.

5. Hire a selection expert.

Unless you have selection expertise on staff, I recommend hiring a consultant with expertise in assessment and selection to help build a formal competency model for your company and to design an effective and efficient hiring process. This approach will ensure that your business strategy is aligned with your talent acquisition strategy. A successful roll out might include interview training and a detailed process overview.

6. Stick to your guns.

It may be difficult, but it will be necessary to pass up well-qualified candidates if there is evidence to support that they will not perform the job in a manner that is consistent with your culture, values, and norms. Of course, in order to have the luxury of being highly selective, you need to start with a large pool of well-qualified and diverse candidates. If you cannot generate a sufficient pool of qualified applicants, you will ultimately have to look for additional sources or be forced to compromise.