The Danger of Hiring for Cultural Fit

BY C. Lee Smith
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In this era of challenging hiring conditions, some organizations remain focused on bringing in candidates who have the right cultural fit. Hiring managers reason that prospective employees who are like everyone else in the organization will “fit in.” What actually happens in these cases is that, over time, everyone on the team tends to think and behave like their co-​workers. When employers fail to think outside-​the-​cultural-​box, the organization can lose drive and originality at a time when it’s most needed. Groupthink also negatively impacts any DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) hiring goals at a time when customers are paying attention to corporate behavior on this front.

Defining Cultural Fit

Corporate culture is “a constantly changing, employee-​powered concept,” says Rachel Miller at wework​.com. While leaders may set the example for what they hope a corporate culture will be, it evolves as employees come up with their own processes and ways of communicating. But when leaders routinely weed out non-​white, gender nonconforming, and older candidates, they are stifling organizational and cultural change. Despite complaints about the lack of qualified candidates available in today’s marketplace, Sophie Epstein reports that emphasis on cultural fit continues and is a hallmark of leaders who want to maintain the “status quo.” Here’s what best-​in-​class organizations are looking for instead.

Job Fit

Your new hire might make everyone in the sales department feel comfortable because they support the same local sports team that everyone else does. And while it’s important for team members to have a certain level of comfort with each other, it’s far more important for your new employee to have the right fit for the job. If you need an account manager, a candidate with good organizational skills is key. But if you need a new business specialist, a person with strong prospecting skills will serve you well. The best way to know what you’re getting is to ask your candidates to take psychometric assessments.

Manager Fit

If your strongest candidate will need a bit of coaching to realize the potential you see in them, it’s a good idea to check for manager fit on the assessment results. How does the prospective employee’s needs align with the strengths of the manager? If that manager doesn’t particularly enjoy developing team members, they may not be a good match for a new hire who needs coaching. This factor is far more important than rejecting a candidate because of your concept of cultural fit.

Customer Fit

The members of your sales team directly impact the relationship customers have with your company. All customers have expectations, and if they’re delighted after an exchange with a member of your sales team, your employees are doing something right. Often, this comes down to professionals who display empathy and positivity during customer interactions.

Your team members will also serve “internal” customers. If the sales operations person has to chase down one rep every month for the details they need in order to complete a critical report, friction may develop in the relationship. Obviously, you’ll want to minimize these kinds of problems.

During the hiring process, instead of focusing on where a candidate studied or which nonprofit organization they volunteer for, review the details of their assessment results to determine whether their work traits and behavioral traits will be a good fit for the customers they’ll interact with, both externally and internally.

Company Fit

If your organization mines coal and one of your candidates is passionate about alternative energy like solar and wind power, you might have a company fit problem. During the interview process, you can determine whether your candidate supports the value and mission of your company. Candidates who are excited about what the company is doing will be energized to work hard in support of that mission.

The Right Fit

Hiring managers should focus on the fits that matter when hiring. If a candidate has the right mindset and skill set for the job and is a good match for the manager and the customers served, they should advance to the next round in the hiring process.

Each new hire will bring something different to the culture. Be open to these changes as your organization can grow and develop new products and services. When you’re hiring, rely on the data from psychometric assessments to understand important candidate fits and don’t obsess about cultural fit. Above all, keep your tendency to want to hire a “mini-​me” in check during this process.

Photo by Markus Spiske at Pexels