Why Cultural fit Matters and How to Get it Right

Cultural fit is tough to gauge. This is because it’s virtually impossible to have objective assessment metrics for it. Still, the stakes are high for getting like-minded people on board – 80% of employers rank ‘cultural fit’ as one of their top hiring priorities.

While it’s well established that a good cultural fit is essential to motivating an employee to deliver qualitative as well as quantitative results, there is a problem with how talent leaders are using this vague term. “The biggest problem is that while we invoke cultural fit as a reason to hire someone, it is far more common to use it to not hire someone”, says Katherine Klein, vice dean of Wharton Social Impact Institute.

What really determines a company’s culture?

The answer is a number of factors, with most being beyond the company’s control. A company’s age, pace of growth, its’ management’s leadership style, overall financial standing, market position, brand perception in consumers’ minds – all these and more make as well as impact the organizational culture. When there are so many variables that go into it, how do you ensure you only hire candidates with the ‘right cultural fit’ and avoid misfits?

Ask some pertinent questions around what the candidate considers to be his/her most significant accomplishment.

This can lead you on a path of exhaustive fact-finding, by the end of which, you would have a reasonably clear idea of whether the candidate is a good fit or not. You will know what a candidate’s best (and worst) traits are, is he/she a team player or solo warrior, does he/she have a history of conflict/aggression at the workplace, how he/she manages tensions and work related stress, what excites him/her most, etc.

To reap the full value of this question, ask it this way: Could you please walk me through a project you consider your big accomplishment? I would like to understand your role, deliverables, team and reporting structure, who formulated the roadmap, who mentored you or whom did you mentor, what were your day-to-day priorities? In the end, don’t forget to ask what the candidate liked or disliked the most about the project – it could range from rewards, leadership style, learning opportunities, flexibility to work on their preferred timelines, etc.

If you feel you haven’t got satisfactory answers in the first round, yet the candidate looks promising going by their resume, don’t stop at one accomplishment. Probe further and somewhere along the line you’ll begin to see a pattern in the candidate’s performance and preferences.

Cultural fit: Beyond reducing employee churn

Culture fit directly impacts financial performance. Employee turnover as a result of hiring cultural misfits can cost organisations anywhere between 50-60% of the candidate’s annual compensation. The downside doesn’t end there. Organisations that promote higher levels of consensus over key aspects and place a heavy emphasis on adaptability perform better financially than those that regard culture as just another marketing gimmick.

Like-minded vs diversity: How you measure cultural fit is the key

Heterogeneity is the mother of creativity and new ideas flow in a workplace that thrives on diversity. While cultural fit is important, talent managers must exercise flexibility when it comes to gauging who is a good fit and who is not. Like-minded does not mean near clones and the inclusion of culturally distinct newcomers can stimulate behaviors among old-timers that can convert affective pains into cognitive gains i.e. better brainstorming for superior group problem solving.

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