Have you heard people throw around the term cultural fit? It’s understandable – having a positive workplace culture is very important for any business and takes time to cultivate. Naturally, employers want employees who will blend seamlessly into their organization and help to maintain the environment they’ve worked to build.
But what does cultural fit really mean? And how do you hire people who are a good cultural fit?
Cultural fit: perception versus actual meaning
Too often, hiring managers think of a good cultural fit as someone who is like me and others who work here. Perhaps they relate well to some aspect of a prospective hire’s personality (“I like this person’s sense of humor”) or they discover common ground (“we went to the same college” or “we’re from the same city”).
Or, maybe a prospective hire just feels like someone with whom the hiring manager would enjoy having a beer with at happy hour. It’s not uncommon to hear hiring managers say stuff like, “We’re a young group of people at this company and we like to go out and grab drinks after work, so we’re looking for a young go-getter.”
However, this type of mindset can:
- Allow unconscious bias or familiarity bias to creep into hiring decisions – at the expense of hiring the most qualified, optimal individual
- Lead hiring managers to overly focus on people who think or look like them, which then can touch on protected classes, such as age, race or gender – and if that sways a hiring decision, it’s discrimination
- Result in a homogeneous, overly conformist workforce
Here’s the thing – you’re not hiring your next best friend. You’re hiring someone who is supposed to help propel the company further toward success.
Instead, cultural fit is actually about finding someone who meets both of these criteria:
- Aligns with your organization’s mission, vision, values and professional ethics, and has a similar outlook on the company’s trajectory
- Adds something new to the organization that’s currently missing
Although cultural fit is a widely used term, it may be a bit misleading and outdated. Because what you’re really aiming for with any new hire is cultural impact. Ask yourself whether any new hire:
- Has a different perspective
- Approaches challenges differently
- Has a new type of experience
- Will likely result in improvements or enhancements within your organization
Importance of cultural fit
Cultural fit, or cultural impact, is critical because it leads to greater inclusion. It’s about bringing a lot of diverse personalities, backgrounds and thought processes together to generate new, out-of-the-box solutions.
This often results in:
- Less groupthink
- More innovation and creativity
- Increased profitability
Additionally, workplaces that hire people who are good cultural fits are less likely to experience problems with employees who don’t align with their mission or values and can drag the organization down.
Maintaining a positive culture and ensuring that each employee is a good cultural fit are both especially important – and even more challenging – in today’s remote/hybrid, more dispersed workplaces.
How to hire for cultural fit in your workplace
1. Know your true culture
To hire well and incorporate the right people who will enable optimal outcomes, you need to understand the work environment that defines who the “right people” are in the first place.
Your organizational culture permeates nearly every aspect of your business and each employee’s day to day experience. As a result, it has a big impact on:
- How happy and committed your employees are
- The quality of work they produce
- How smoothly your company operates
- How well you deliver on your promise to customers, partners and team members
- Whether your company is innovative, growth oriented and profitable
You must have a clear understanding of the culture you have versus the culture to which you aspire – if there are any gaps.
Is your culture – the culmination of your mission, vision and values, as well as your policies and rules, procedures, expectations and social norms – lived out through every person in your organization each day? Or is it just exist on a poster on the wall?
You should also issue cultural surveys to employees annually to obtain feedback about what’s working well versus what should change. This is also a good, regular practice simply so you can maintain a pulse on how your team thinks and feels.
Any new hire should:
- Align with your cultural aspirations
- Embody what’s currently working well
2. Embrace diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I)
Considering DE&I when hiring requires vetting candidates according to deficiencies that exist on your team.
Once again, it’s not about consideration of attributes that can run afoul of discrimination laws, such as gender, race or national origin. It’s about honestly assessing your organization’s strengths and weaknesses and then identifying candidates who have strengths you don’t have or who can fill in those cultural gaps between where you are and where you want to be.
Any new hire should broaden your workforce and represent a value add by introducing some new:
- Area of expertise
- Collection of experiences
3. Broadcast your culture
To attract the right people, you need to make it clear what and who you’re looking for.
Explain your workplace culture in well-written job descriptions, as well as your company website, social media and other recruiting materials. Share your organization’s:
- Mission, vision, values – all the things that your organization stands for
- Working style, including policies, procedures and team dynamics
- What you envision the occupant of the job role bringing to the table and how this position impacts the organization
4. Incorporate culture into job interviews
It’s a good idea to reiterate messaging around your workplace culture toward the beginning of job interviews. Make it clear to job candidates that cultural fit is a priority of yours.
Set and clarify expectations early, and lay the groundwork for asking questions that are intended to:
- Uncover their personal values and ethics
- Gauge their working and communication styles
- Determine how they’d react when faced with a certain scenario (their thought processes and problem-solving capabilities)
- Confirm how they view your organization
- Find out what they consider to be most important about your mission, values and customer service
Ultimately, this will help you determine whether candidates are a good cultural fit.
With remote/hybrid roles or non-local candidates, here’s how you can go a step further to help identify good cultural fit:
- Conduct video interviews so you can see the candidate’s reaction to questions along with their body language and non-verbal cues.
- Ask pointed questions about their work ethic and experience in virtual work environments. Examples:
- How do you stay connected with team members and leaders?
- How do you see yourself growing in this role while virtual?
- What have you done to enhance communication with team members and leaders?
- Do you have any ideas for improving collaboration and team building, or even just creating fun opportunities to connect?
5. Be objective when making big decisions
To avoid the temptation to advance candidates to the next stage of the recruiting process based on your personal preferences or gut feelings, put anti-bias safeguards in place.
- Involve other people in the recruiting process, thereby creating a hiring committee or panel. These individuals can come from across the organization, and may include human resources (HR), the hiring manager, a DE&I professional and a subject matter expert from the relevant functional area. Together, these individuals can discuss the cultural fitness of each candidate, among their other attributes, and make more balanced, thoughtful decisions.
- Use a number or rank-based system to grade candidates based on their answers to interview questions. Be sure to ask each candidate the same questions for fairness and consistency.
6. Immerse new hires into your culture
Once you’ve officially hired your next employee, the next step is to give them a thorough introduction to your culture. It’s not enough to tell them about it during the recruiting process – now, you must present them with more in-depth information, train them and prepare them to live out the culture each day.
After all, you don’t want to go through the trouble of carefully selecting a candidate based on cultural fit and then drop the ball once they get in the door.
Evaluate your employee orientation and onboarding processes to assess how you can improve initial education about your workplace culture.
Beyond this point, workplace culture must be reviewed regularly and refreshed as necessary. Periodically remind employees about the culture and let them know of any updates in a timely manner.
Summing it all up
Cultural fit – it’s one of those employee qualities that every company wants, but many don’t entirely understand or know exactly how to achieve to get desired outcomes. Here, we explained that the term cultural fit could be replaced with cultural impact, because that’s what you’re really going for: an employee who aligns with your organization’s values and goals, but who brings some new strengths to your team. Then we outlined six steps to take during the hiring process to identify new employees who meet this criteria. Remember: cultural fit has nothing to do with hiring employees who look or think like you, or with whom you personally share commonalities.
Employees who are good cultural fits will impact your organization in myriad positive ways. To learn more about cultivating a workforce that will help your company accomplish its performance and growth goals, download our free e-book: How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.