A Beginner’s Guide to Culture Fit

culture fitCompanies with high turnover know how important it is to get the right candidates into the right positions. But it’s also important to know that those candidates will be happier, more productive, and more engaged if they also fit with the company culture.

A conservative mid-career accounting professional with a work history in the banking industry may not feel comfortable running the accounting department in a creative startup with a focus on innovation and change. A corporate group that values and expects teamwork and collaboration isn’t the best work environment for someone who likes and has a work history of working independently.

Culture Fit – Not for Employers Only

Culture fit isn’t only important to employers and recruiters. It’s also a big factor in job search, as Ritika Trikha will tell you. She writes about how job seekers can assess company culture before they take that great new job with the corner office or awesome perks so they don’t get stuck with “poor fit” and end up unhappy.

She advises job seekers to perform due diligence on the companies where they send their resumes, saying “culture applies to everything but can’t be gauged by just one thing.”  She tells them how to do this by monitoring their Tweets on Twitter, checking out their company Facebook pages, setting up Google Alerts to get the latest news they can use about companies they may want to work for, and visiting third-party review sites like CareerBliss.com and Glassdoor.com.

Trikha tells job seekers how to look for toxic culture during the job search process with pointed questions for their interviewers.  “What one thing would you change about this company and why?”  “How did this position become available?” “How do you reward success?” Questions like this from candidates mean they are assessing your company culture and looking for their own “fit.”

Be aware that your company culture and culture fit are (or should be) just as important to the candidates who are considering working for you as they are to you and the people who come in to work every day to build your business.

If you don’t understand culture fit and the role it plays in successful hiring, retention, and workforce development, you need to get up to speed on it now.  Here we’ll explain culture fit and why it’s important in recruiting and retention, and show you what you should be doing to make sure that culture fit is a factor in every hire.

What is Culture Fit?

Organizational psychology guru Adrian Furnham defines culture fit in his textbook “The Psychology of Behavior at Work” as “A fit is where there is congruence between the norms and values of the organization and those of the person.”

To understand culture fit, you have to understand organizational culture.

A company’s culture is not defined and implemented by the owner or president, although they do set the tone and direction for company culture. It’s not captured solely in written policies and procedures, although mission, values, and vision statements should closely mirror culture.

Company culture, also known as organizational culture and corporate culture, is based on shared beliefs, attitudes, written and unwritten rules, customs, and traditions developed over time. It’s revealed in the way the organization does business and treats employees, customers, and the community. It touches every aspect of business, from power and information flow, to productivity and performance, through quality and safety, and into production methods, sales and marketing, and corporate communications.

Company culture encompasses the values and behaviors that make up a company’s unique psychological and social environment, including expectations, experiences, philosophy, self-image, inner workings, and interactions with the outside world.

Culture fit, when employees understand, agree with, and embrace organizational culture as a good thing, creating engagement, benefits everyone in the organization. The opposite of culture fit – disgruntled employees – has a negative impact on productivity and business success.

Roots of Culture Fit

Culture fit has its roots in the development of organizational psychology in the 70s. In 1975, organizational psychologist John Morse conducted a study of the congruence, or fit, between personality and organization and its effects on employee competence. He studied groups of employees who were either placed with the traditional hiring methods or who were tested and placed in jobs that matched their personalities.

The result? Those in “congruent” jobs which matched their personality reported feeling more competent. In other words, positive cultural fit can improve employee self-esteem and make them feel more capable of performing their work.

More recent studies bear this out, such as the Kristof-Brown 2005 meta-analysis “Consequences of Individuals’ Fit at Work” which revealed that employees who fit well with their organization, coworkers, and supervisor had greater job satisfaction, were more likely to stay with their company, performed better, and were more committed.

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What is Your Company Culture?

RoundPegg co-founder and chief psychologist Dr. Natalie Baumgartner cautions employers that when culture is misunderstood, not well-aligned with business strategy, or if there’s no context around culture to link people with organizational goals, then there will be a detrimental effect on performance overall.

If your company is a new start-up, has gone through several growth stages, or has had several changes in management, you may not have a clearly defined or easily recognizable culture.

Can you clearly define your company culture? Could you explain it to candidates who come in for interviews? How do your employees talk about your company? Are these areas all closely related and defining the company the same way?

To be able to assess candidates for culture fit, you must know what your culture is. If it’s not clearly defined yet, as it may be in startups or recently reorganized companies, a good way to talk about your company culture is with a mission or vision statement. Lou Adler, recruiting guru and author, says a company’s culture is in part defined by the CEO and strategy, vision, and mission.

If you can’t clearly define your company culture, if your hiring managers aren’t talking about it to candidates and recruiters, you aren’t going to be able to hire for culture fit. If this is the case, take a little time to assess your culture. Ask the employees what they think the company culture is, either informally or with a survey. Get a good idea for what the perceptions are until a clearer definition of your culture emerges.

Are You Hiring for Culture Fit?

The Cubiks International Survey on Job and Culture Fit found that more than half of those surveyed said their organizations don’t have a clearly defined culture and less than half of them assess culture fit during recruiting.

Make culture fit a part of your recruiting process, from sourcing to candidate screening to the interview questions you ask. The Recruiting Division has touched on this in posts such as “Do Your Recruiting Solutions Address Culture Fit?”,“Sourcing Strategy for IT: Culture Fit vs. Technical Skills,” and “Start Asking Unique Interview Questions.”

You have to understand and be able to discuss your company culture to incorporate assessment for culture fit into recruiting processes such as sourcing strategy, candidate selection, and interview questions. Use the workplace environment and work style in your company when assessing candidates for culture fit. For example, if your company is team-based and everyone works in collaborative teams, candidates with a teamwork orientation and teamwork in their work histories will fit better than candidates with work histories that include mostly self-employed work or positions where they have only worked independently.

CEO of Yes To Joy Chen says culture fit is just as important as skills and values in the recruiting and hiring process. She advises asking candidates about the main aspects of your company culture, such as “What do you like most about working on a team?” if you have a teamwork environment or “What do you value most at work?” to see if their values match company values.

Culture Fit – Proceed with Caution

Micah Solomon, author, entrepreneur, and customer service expert, has a few precautions about culture fit. He reminds people that culture fit should not be used to force a blanket concept of culture on all employees. He recommends balancing culture fit with diversity expert Michael Hyter’s inclusion concepts and allowing “fair consideration for jobs for people who happen to be different.”

Solomon likens some of the culture fit hiring practices used by successful companies today to hazing, such as Zappos unique recruiting activities and questions (“On a scale of one to 10, how weird are you?”), and says they could almost be considered abusing the concept of hiring for culture fit.

He cautions that culture fit “tests” that include peer evaluation can be exclusionary rather than a good measure of whether or not the candidate would work well and be comfortable in the company. He also reminds us to be careful not to sacrifice diversity for rigid culture fit standards. He quotes Michael Hyter who says fit can be misinterpreted as “being like me” instead of a holistic fit with the position, work environment, management, and business goals.

The main takeaway here is that culture fit is important in recruiting today. Whether you have a strong brand like Zappos and Southwest Airlines or are just starting out, culture fit is important to your hiring success. And it starts with understanding your company culture.


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