What is Cultural Fit and Why Does it Matter?

Every workplace has a unique culture. Office A bustles with brainstorming meetings and people visiting coworkers to discuss projects. While Office B is quieter, with most employees working independently and gathering only for the occasional meeting. Where will the candidate  who thrives in a highly collaborative environment fit best?

If you guessed Office A—you’re spot on. A person who enjoys discussing ongoing projects and brainstorming with coworkers isn’t going to feel at home in Office B, and will likely begin exploring an exit strategy before long. This is a scenario where culture fit assessments make a big difference in building an effective workforce.

The Harvard Business Review defines cultural fit as the “likelihood that someone will reflect and/or be able to adapt to the core beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that make up [an] organization.”

Ignoring cultural fit can lead to bad hires —not because the person isn’t skilled at the job, but because the organization’s culture is not a good match. And this mismatch is costly. Employee turnover resulting from poor cultural fit can be as high as 60 percent of the lost employee’s annual salary, according to the Society for Human Resources Management.

How Do You Hire for Cultural Fit?

One of the most important things to remember about hiring for cultural fit is what it’s not. Hiring with culture in mind shouldn’t create a homogenized workplace with cookie-cutter employees. As a matter of fact, research has found that companies with a diverse workforce are more effective and profitable. This is because it takes all sorts to bring valuable ideas and skills to the table.

Cultural fit is about a candidate’s comfort with your company’s core values and approach to work, leadership, and communication. Some workers flourish in hierarchical structures where the chain of command is clear, for example, while others are better suited to flat organizations where individuals take on greater responsibility for business outcomes.

Ultimately, hiring for culture fit benefits both companies and talent. Here’s how to get it right:

Clarify Your Culture

Take time to clarify your organization’s workplace culture so you can paint an accurate picture for candidates. As you review your company culture, you may find that it is not well defined, which is important to know. When the workplace culture is unclear, companies are at risk of having ineffective departments, or even toxic environments.

To help you define your workplace culture, think honestly about ‘A Day in the Life’ at your business. Some things to observe and consider: How do employees communicate with managers and coworkers? How is success defined and rewarded? What is the leadership structure? Are learning and advancement opportunities clear?

Once you’ve determined (and refined) your company’s culture, share it on your careers website, on social media, and via in-house communications. Many companies develop and share ‘Core Values Statements’ with current and prospective employees.

Share Your Culture in Job Descriptions

Attracting candidates who are a good cultural fit from the outset saves time and money. Your job description is a good place to begin weeding out talent who wouldn’t flourish in your organization’s leadership structure or communication methods. Many companies begin their job description with a short ‘About Us’ section that summarizes what the company offers employees. Here are a few examples of items that could illuminate your company culture:

  • Flexible work schedules
  • Fast-paced environment
  • Collaborative, or team-based work structure
  • Career advancement opportunities
  • Volunteer and philanthropic projects

Interview for Cultural Fit

Interviews are a two-way street when it comes to cultural fit. You want to determine if candidates are a good match for your organization, while also giving them enough information so they can make an educated decision about whether they want to work for you. It’s helpful to hold interviews at the location candidates would work if they were hired. Walk them through the facility, introduce them to managers, and let them get an authentic picture of the workplace.

  • When interviewing for cultural fit, consider tailoring the following to your organization:
  • Ask candidates how they would manage hypothetical workplace problems that are common at your company.
  • Ask them what they noticed about your workplace during the walkthrough, and how it compares to previous jobs.
  • Ask what matters to them most in a workplace.
  • Ask them to describe a leader they didn’t communicate well with, and what they thought the issue was.
  • Ask them to describe their ideal work environment.

Be Honest About Your Company’s Downsides

No company or job is perfect, and every organization has its own distinct workplace pros and cons. During the hiring process, share the downsides of your company and specific positions with candidates. If your employees regularly work long hours, and even into the weekend, it’s critical to be upfront about that. You should also clarify that a position includes repetitive heavy lifting or other physical challenges, or that your office is fast paced and deadline driven. Glossing over the difficult aspects of your workplace results in increased employee turnover, as people discover a job isn’t for them only after they are hired.

The Drawback of Cultural Fit

The problem with hiring for cultural fit is that many people boil it down to hiring people with similar backgrounds, such as having the same level of education or coming from the same state. Sometimes people mistake cultural fit for hitting it off with the candidate during an interview. First impressions matter, but thinking someone is great doesn’t necessarily equate to a strong cultural fit. Remember, the answers to the questions above should outweigh having ‘a good feeling’ about a candidate.

Cultural Fit vs. Skills: Which Matters More?

Finally, does cultural fit outweigh having a candidate with the skills required for the job? They are both crucial to achieving your business goals and creating a workforce with low turnover and high productivity. However, hitting the target on cultural fit wins by a hair because it’s possible to fill a skills gap through training, while a candidate’s preferences about workplace structure are unlikely to shift.

Need assistance assessing candidates for cultural fit? Contact LINK Staffing.