Ask a dozen people to describe the most important characteristics and competencies of the ‘right’ or ‘best’ employee for a job and you’ll often get at least 12 different answers. 

Most managers agree that the right employee must be honest, reliable, and motivated; however, consensus on the next most important criteria for job success is less obvious after listing those qualities. 

Some managers consider a candidate’s long-term commitment (loyalty) to the company as a non-negotiable requirement. Others value a candidate with the flexibility to adapt to new roles and working conditions. Good interpersonal skills are fairly common items on many lists too.  As the wish list of qualities of the dream-team employee grows longer, managers begin to create a wish list of skill sets that would likely require nothing short of a miracle to find in one individual.

The secret, from my meta-study of the research, to finding the high performing employee is to narrow down the wish-list criteria to three essential requirements.  Every employee must fit all three of these requirements to be successful, although the order of importance might vary from business to business, manager to manager, or location to location.  These three requirements are:

Job Skills:  Does the candidate have the technical and soft skills to do the job?

Team Fit:  Will the candidate work well with the rest of the team?

Culture Fit:  Will the candidate be motivated by the culture, responsibilities, and incentives offered by the company?

Most managers tend to focus on only one or the other. A common approach is to hire attitudeand culture fit because skills can be trained. It’s also quite popular to give deference to job skills and consider team and culture fit as an after-thought. But a good employee will have what it takes to fit well in all three areas.

For instance, have you ever managed an employee who had a great personality but only marginal job skills?  The employee was probably well liked by all.  He was loyal and hard- working, yet there were still problems with his performance – he could not see the big picture and had an inability to learn new skills.  The employee just couldn’t seem to keep pace, but co-workers would defend and protect him, even if it meant that they work off the clock to complete his projects.  In that scenario, the employee’s fit with your team and culture may be stronger drivers for long-term retention than job skills because terminating the employee for non-performance and low productivity would likely create an employee revolt.

Or, consider the sales superstar who brings in 50 percent of your revenues, or the manager who consistently improves productivity year after year.  These employees may be the round peg in the round hole when it comes to sales or operations, but they are clearly the very square peg on a team of round holes when it comes to charisma and building relationships. These employees are insidiously toxic to the culture.  No co-worker would lift a finger or go one step out of their way to help these employees.  If these jerks aren’t run off first, they will run off the rest of your team.  If minimizing turnover and encouraging long-term commitments from your team is a critical strategy, then hiring candidates for their job skills without considering their fit within your team and culture is a disaster waiting to happen. 

A candidate is deemed a good fit for the organization if he/she (i) has the necessary job skills (or can learn them, if applicable) for the position, (ii) complements and supports co-workers, and (iii) is motivated by the company’s culture. 

To recruit and hire employees who meet all three requirements for good job fit, I’ve outlined 7 surefire steps to hiring top performers.  You can download a free step-by-step guide here.