Expert Advice for Medium and Midsize Businesses

Recruit Better by Putting Cultural Fit in the Spotlight

Jason Richmond
Chief Culture Officer and Founder at Ideal Outcomes

What’s more important during recruiting—culture fit or skills? As unemployment dips below 4 percent, this question is a critical one for employers that want to attract and retain the best people.

The truth is, both are important. However, if you had to choose, cultural fit should win out. That’s because while you can train for skills, you can’t train for fit. Cultural fit is innate; it’s more about a candidate’s outlook on life than anything you’ll find in a textbook, classroom, or online course. That makes it a powerful tool for building a more engaged culture, yet one that can be difficult to define and identify for best results.

Fortunately, there is a way to assess for cultural fit during your recruiting process.

Four Steps to Assessing Cultural Fit

Before you can assess for cultural fit, you’ll need to do some legwork to understand more about your culture and learn how to use that knowledge to make the best hiring decisions. These four steps can help you do just that:

  1. Know your culture. What are the values, purpose, managerial style, and habits that define your small-to-medium business (SMB)? To hire for culture, these need to be clearly defined and understood, not just from a theoretical perspective, but from a “lived” perspective. You need a strong understanding of what your culture looks like in action and in each role you’re seeking to fill.
  2. Ask culture questions. Ask each candidate questions designed to uncover how they will fit with the most important culture aspects of your growing company. Value alignment, personal and professional habits, preferred managerial styles and roles, and complementary personality types are all aspects of culture fit that will impact an employee’s experience with your company. Ask questions that assess these areas of culture fit.  
  3. Involve the right people. People are the foundation of your culture. In fact, 77 percent of workers recently surveyed stated that their co-worker relationships were a top driver of engagement. The most important of those relationships will be with managers and team members, so it’s important to involve these individuals during the interview and hiring process.
  4. Make the right decision. Early in your recruiting process, you’ll likely be assessing individuals based on either their skills and experience or their ability and desire to learn. If you’re fortunate enough to be faced with several qualified candidates, culture fit rather than skills and aptitude should be the deciding factor. This will help to ensure that you make the right decision, attracting not just the most qualified candidate, but the one most likely to become fully engaged (and remain the longest).

Learn how Oracle HCM Cloud can help your high-growth company.

Four Key Aspects of Culture Fit

Organizational culture refers to the characteristics that make your organization unique. It includes the values and purpose that drive your organization and its people, the habits that are employed to get the work done, the personalities and management styles that are prevalent within the organization, and much more. Here’s how to assess for some of these key aspects of culture.

Values fit. One of the most important aspects of hiring for culture fit is alignment with values. A global study of more than 28,000 employees across 15 countries found that the number one driver of employee engagement was commitment to the company’s core values.  So, if you want to ensure culture fit, determining if a candidate shares your organization’s core values is a great place to start.

To assess for values fit, you should ask questions that reveal how well the candidate understands and is aligned with your organizational values. To assess these, you’ll need to have identified those values, and know what they look like in action.

Some questions to ask include:

  • What values are you seeking from your next company?
  • Which of our core values reflects your own personal core values?
  • Tell us about a time when you made a difficult decision based on your core values.

Habits fit. What people have done in the past is often the best indicator of what they’ll do in the future. Therefore, it’s important to probe what kinds of habits the candidate may have exhibited in the past. How do they approach their work? What do they do to stay focused on the right things?  Perhaps most importantly in today’s fast-changing world of work, how willing are they to embrace new habits that will make them more effective?

Ask questions like:

  • How do you start your day? Or, how do you unwind after a challenging workday?
  • How do you maintain focus when faced with multiple priorities?
  • Tell us about a time when you learned a new positive habit, or let go of a negative one?

The good news is that of all the aspects of culture, your employee’s work habits may be the most malleable. An old adage says that it takes about 21 days to learn a new habit. Employers can even help employees develop better personal and professional habits with employee engagement and development tools like ProHabits that help work teams implement concepts such as mindfulness, leadership, innovation, and teamwork.

Personality fit. Different people thrive in different conditions: some enjoy the fast-paced and flexible world of startups, others prefer working for a more role-defined enterprise. Who thrives where often comes down to personality.  A candidate who thrives on rules and defined roles won’t be comfortable in a start-up where people are expected to wear different hats and pitch in wherever they’re needed. Candidates who prefer working independently won’t be happy in a close-knit team where personal and professional relationships are closely intertwined. People who like doing a “little bit of this and a little bit of that” will struggle to stay in their lane when working for a large corporation.

You can assess these aspects of personality fit by asking questions like:

  • Describe your ideal working environment or a culture where you would be most likely to thrive?
  • Have you ever been part of an organization where you weren’t a good fit? Why was it a bad fit?
  • What three aspects of our culture do you find most attractive?
  • What aspects of our culture do you feel might be a challenge for you? How would you overcome those challenges?

Managerial fit. It’s said that employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers. But even the best managers can have different styles that may not mesh with every employee. Some are hands-off delegators, others like to train and coach their employees. Others may tend to supervise or even micromanage.

Employees who are seeking an organization where they’ll be coached and mentored won’t be happy with a hands-off manager, and may not be happy with a micromanager either.  So it’s important to assess whether the candidate will be a fit with the management style that’s prevalent in your organization, and the manager they’ll work for in particular.

Assess managerial fit by asking questions like:

  • Tell me about a manager with whom you meshed well. What did you like best about him or her?
  • What qualities are you seeking from your next manager?
  • What managerial style do you feel works best for you?

In a job market where 51 percent of employed adults and 60 percent of millennials are seeking new opportunities, it’s not enough to simply attract skilled candidates to fill open positions. The key is to attract, retain and engage the people most likely to thrive within your organization. By focusing on culture fit during the recruiting process, employers can identify, recruit and engage these individuals and drive remarkable results for their organization.

If your organization has overcome the plateau effect, we want to hear from you! We’re looking for contributors for a new book “Beyond the Plateau Effect.” If you can answer the question, “What role does culture play in your success?” visit our website to share your story. We would love to hear from you.

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