How important is cultural fit when recruiting?

woman in a job interview, sitting face-to-face with three interviewers

We live in changing times on many fronts; politically, economically, socially and technologically.  So with all the change taking place around us, how important is cultural fit in 2012 when you recruit (internally or externally) to fill roles within your organisation?

This is an interesting topic to discuss as there seems to be a tidal wave of change occurring in many Australian businesses, so this topic has come up in many discussions of late with many of my industry colleagues.

Most of us at some stage of our career have invested an extraordinary amount of time scouring the marketplace for that perfect candidate. We even jumped for joy when we found them, interviewed them promptly and we hired them without a second thought because their skills set perfectly matched the job/position description and their reference checks were flawless. Much to our surprise they either become the problem child in our team, creating a bigger problem than having the role vacant in the first instance, or they resign within their probationary period.  Does that scenario resonate with you?

Well, if they resign we are back at square one and the entire process starts again, unless you had a close second choice from the original process. If you now have a problem child, they could be vocally disgruntled about the role, be creating conflict and impacting morale within the team. The question to be asking yourself now is “how can someone be impressive on paper, present head and shoulders above other candidates in an interview, yet be so different on the job?” I promise you this is not a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde scenario, but a simple mismatch between the job, team, organisation or all of the above. In any event “Houston, we have a problem!”

In 1996, when I first went to work for Lend Lease on the MLC side of the business, it was so foreign in comparison to my banking/financial services career to date, that I experienced ‘culture shock’. My mentor at that time suggested that I read a book called: “A peacock IN THE LAND OF PENGUINS – A Tale of Diversity and Discovery” (by Barbara “BJ” Hateley and Warren H. Schmidt). This booked helped me to understand why I was struggling to assimilate within my new team and the organisation because it was so foreign to anything that I had experienced before. The role was fine, the rest was a problem, so I realised I had to change to fit in or decide to leave – the choice was simple. I had to learn how to become more adaptive, resilient and embrace difference and I am so glad that I did as it has opened many more doors in my career since 1996.

Organisational psychologists have traditionally defined cultural fit in terms of two fits; ‘organisation-person fit’ and ‘job-person fit’. These fits are then broken into ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ categories. Hard fit are things like levels of subject matter knowledge, specific skills and cognitive abilities. Soft fit include personality traits, values and personal belief systems. When measured together they provide a more accurate assessment of the candidates true fit.  With this in mind I am not sure why some organisations still focus on recruiting purely for skill set. I also think there is a middle layer to the two fits, so let’s have a look at them together and the initial questions that we should be asking ourselves for each one:

1. Organisational Fit:

  • Does the individual have aligned values and beliefs to the organisation?
  • Is their preferred modus operandi aligned with/to the organisation?

2. Team Fit:

  • Does the individual fit with the different styles and personalities within the team?
  • Are they a team player?
  • Do they value diversity of thinking?
  • Are they able to respectfully deal with conflicting points of view?

3. Role Fit:

  • Does the individual have the skills, competencies and capabilities to competently perform the duties and responsibilities of the role i.e. can they do the job?
  • Do they have the right mindset?
  • Finally, will they do the job?

The important question to ask now is…Do you need to change any aspect in your current recruitment process to ensure that you attract and retain the ‘culturally right fit’ people for your organisation, the team and the respective role? As managers we generally focus on filling roles within our teams and the organisation with people who have demonstrated their skills and knowledge in previous roles.

Research over the past decade proves that you still need to the right fit to the team and organisation. Candidates assimilate faster, which means they are able to actively contribute sooner, resulting in greater job satisfaction for them and increase the likelihood of retention within the organisation.

Naturally this makes sense, given we are a bi-product of our environment.

  • http://staffmatcher.com.au Gary

    One of the best articles I’ve seen on the subject because so many try to over-complicate the subject. The three components of cultural fit you identify are what every good recruiter should be focussed on and the techniques / tools to achieve this, are available to all employers. Well done.

  • http://www.wishlistrecruitment.com.au Sharon Waters

    I agree with Gary’s comments below, this is a great article to introduce employers to the complex topic that is “cultural fit”. An employer (and their recruiter) need to have a clear understanding of the company values in order to identify the appropriate ‘fit’. Without understanding these, the employer and recruiter are essentially playing a guessing game and/or relying on ‘gut feel’. The next step is to ensure their company behaviours, rituals and systems reflect and support the company values and in my opinion I think it is really important to promote these behaviours, rituals, systems and values to prospective employees during the recruitment process.

  • http://www.wallstreetservices.com Peter Laughter

    Cultural fit is the single most important factor in recruiting. Skills can be taught or learned but values are inherent. The productivity cost of a disgruntled ill-fitting employee to a team is significant and the management challenges are insurmountable. This is particularly true for consulting assignments yet very little attention is paid to cultural fit in these situations. Most of our clients ask for specific skills and spend little attention to the types of people who are successful with their organization. Recognizing that cultural fit plays a critical role in the success of a consulting engagement we at Wall Street Services (http://www.wallstreetservices.com | @WallStServices) council our employees at the onset of their commitment to identify the most valued employees in the group and to find out what specifically is valued about them. That way intelligent and adaptable consultants can emulate valued behavior.