How to Hire for Culture Fit

I’m sure you’ve all heard this popular adage – hire on skills, fire on attitude. You might have even uttered these words yourself. But the truth is few companies walk-the-talk at changing their hiring habits to reverse the process and include the critical criteria of culture fit.

One reason that many don’t think about hiring employees that fit into the culture is that it’s hard.  In preparing to write this article for a regional business association magazine, I interviewed quite a few business owners and managers. Guess what?  Everyone had different definition of culture which led to a laundry list of essential traits, abilities, beliefs,  and even skills.

One business owner proudly shared her beliefs on hiring for culture fit.

“We employ people from 10 different nationalities and speak 5 languages,” says the president of the company. “But we focus the interview and selection on personality, honesty, loyalty, and being positive. I’m all about energy and body language … and if the candidate smiles, has good manners, and I feel a good vibe.”

But let’s get real. We now live in a world where skills are like currency and worker shortages cripple business plans. Desperation to fill open positions forces many managers to ignore personality and attitude and hire the warm body. It’s just too painful to turn away a talented candidate when they come equipped with the right skills.

Before diving into hiring for culture fit, let’s get one thing straight: When I refer to culture, I’m not talking race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion and so on. If this is how you or your company defines culture, you’ll end up in big trouble. Of course, all these characteristics make up the culture but hiring (or not hiring) based on these characteristics is illegal. A person’s skin color, origin, or sexual preference shouldn’t matter.

What does matter? How can your company reverse hiring fortunes and tap into the benefits of hiring for culture fit?

“Culture misfits don’t typically work out.”

What Do Your Employees Value The Most?

Get on the same page.

Culture is a pattern of shared assumptions and values about how things get done in an organization. It determines how people communicate in the organization and behavior that are acceptable or not. Make sure management and employees are in sync. Your culture isn’t what management says it is or believes it should be but how your people behave.

Tip#1. Make sure the culture you want is the one you have. Entertain an open and honest discussion about the importance of culture and what it means. Ask how both employees and customers would describe the culture at your organization.

Define the ideal culture fit.

This sounds easy. It’s not. You can’t just say you’re inclusive and open-minded when Millennials are bashed and Boomers are considered too old; when women or people-of-color are treated as minorities not peers; when the expression of alternative political or religious views are crushed. Sometimes culture fit even comes down to personality such as the hugging, touchy extrovert invading an introvert’s personal space! It seems everyone has a different perspective on what a good culture fit looks like. Without agreement, hiring for culture fit will be nearly impossible.

Tip #2. Be prepared to entertain difficult conversations. Meet with employees and ask for opinions and feedback but ensure a safe environment for criticism and opinions.

Don’t make it personal.

When an employee or candidate doesn’t seem to fit into the culture, don’t make it personal. Focus on the company’s purpose and mission, not the personality.  A bad cultural fit doesn’t mean the person’s values, attitudes, or values are bad. They may just be different. And  while they may not align with the values of the organization, remember that a diversity of worldviews opens doors to greater understanding and new opportunities.

Tip #3. Stephen Covey’s Habit 5 is “Seek to First Understand.”  Here’s a helpful tool, based on the attitude and values model of Eduard Spranger, that may help you identify 6 values that both support and divide people and organizations. Remember: None are better than the other despite our tendency to value some and judge others.

Conceptual Value: “Knowledge is power.”

Individuals value continuous learning, research, subject matter expertise, and problem solving.

Management offers on-going training and tuition reimbursement.

Aesthetic Value: “Express  yourself.”

Individuals tend to be inner-directed, idealistic, and self-actualizing, seeking a link between their job and a greater purpose.

Management values design, creativity, innovation, and visually appealing environment.

Economic Value: “Money is power” or “Whoever dies with the most toys win.”

Individuals value compensation, efficiency, and resourcefulness.

Return on investment drives all management decisions and discussions.

Power and Authority Value: “Second place is the first place for losers.”

Individuals that thrive in this culture need a career ladder to climb and need feel they are in control of their own destiny.

These organizations encourage individual competition, power rankings, and dangle job promotion as rewards.

Social Value: “One for all, all for one” or “it’s better to give than receive.”

Individuals thrive when they feel they are helping others, collaborating, working as part of a team.

Management promotes a “family-like” culture and actively supports the community.

Doctrine Value: “This is how we do it around here.”

Whether it’s faith, patriotism, or political affiliation, these individuals are passionate about a cause or belief.

While the doctrines that organizations value are neither good nor bad, they may inherently find inclusion, diversity, and adaptation more difficult than any other value-driven culture.

Questions to ask:

  • Which values drives management?
  • Which values drives your employees?
  • Are they in sync?
Your business can suffer if you’re not hiring for culture fit. No matter how much they try, pigs still won’t fly … or as one business owner stated, culture misfits typically don’t work out.