On Our Minds

Unpacking culture fit

Lately we’ve been thinking and talking about culture fit even more than we normally do. In addition to working with our clients to assess candidates for culture fit, we’ve also been doing some hiring of our own. Both experiences have pushed our thinking on the notion of culture fit and have helped us to unpack the concept.

The idea that culture fit is an important factor in hiring is widely accepted among our clients. On the short list of four core competencies we craft for each role, one is always reserved for mission and culture fit (the other three are skill or content-based competencies). In fact, the initial stage of our planning process requires developing a deep understanding of clients’ organizational cultures. How much communication is verbal and how much is written? What level of buy-in and consensus is needed before decisions are made? What qualities are most valued in team members and what core beliefs undergird the organization’s work?

There are a variety of ways to assess for culture fit through the interview process, but perhaps, more than we like to admit it, hiring managers tend to go by gut, choosing to hire candidates who “feel” like a culture fit. What we’ve seen this translate into is hiring people who think, talk, and act like the people already on the team. While this approach can certainly result in successful hires, it can also mean inadvertently ruling out equally strong candidates and limiting the diversity of your team.

While some candidates may more immediately resonate as a culture fit, looking beyond interpersonal style or the surface-level markers of culture will give hiring managers access to a broader array of skillsets, knowledge bases, and life experiences. It’s also helpful to distinguish between the elements of culture fit that are coachable and those that are not. For example, is “insider language” something that candidates must know on their first day on the job or could that language be learned over time? Must a candidate arrive with professional experience in your domain, or would you consider someone with an authentic interest and the intellectual capacity to get up to speed in short order?

We’ll continue to push ourselves and our clients to get specific about what culture fit is – and isn’t. We’ll also continue to carefully consider which aspects of organizational culture can be coached. We’ll know we’re making progress as our conversations on culture fit become more nuanced and as we all become more open to a wider range of styles and perspectives.

– By Sarah Kwon Johnson


filed under For Organizations   |  posted on October 18, 2014