Hiring for “culture fit” is an age-old debate in the world of recruiting, and a simple Google search on the topic paints a stark picture of both sides. You’ll find articles encouraging people to “stop hiring for culture fit,” and those that highlight the dangers of valuing personality and charisma over hard skills. The former chief talent officer at Netflix, Patty McCord, even adds, “What most people mean by culture fit is hiring people they’d like to have a beer with,” which she, and many others, believe is an incorrect way of thinking about hiring.
The other side of the argument, however, says that hiring with company culture in mind is crucial to building a cohesive organization. Harvard Business Review points out the misconceptions that keep hiring managers from seeing the benefits of hiring with cultural fit in mind, including the faulty beliefs that a central company culture can “hurt innovation” or create a one-dimensional team lacking in diversity.
But the problem with this debate is that both sides are responding to two different definitions of “culture fit.”
The term “culture fit” is typically defined by hiring managers and companies as how well someone “fits in” to the organization. And when we talk about “fitting in,” it’s easy to associate that term the same way we think about “fitting in” socially—hence why some companies think the best thing they can do is hire people they enjoy spending time around, can have a beer with, etc. This definition of “culture fit” is heavily flawed and can lead to detrimental hiring practices.
“Culture fit” is really about one thing and one thing only: how well the individual will do their job within your specific organization. And your organization is much more than just happy hours and social gatherings.
The correct way to “hire with company culture in mind,” and the way we help companies with their own hiring here at Edvo, is by understanding four critical components that make up your culture, and then hiring people who can perform at the highest level within your specific culture.
Let’s start with identifying the four critical components:
1. Company environment
In a typical hiring process, two candidates can seem equally talented and qualified.
However, one might thrive in a quiet office where everyone shows up at 8:30 a.m. and nobody gets up to leave before 6:00 p.m, whereas the other might feel motivated and excited by an office culture filled with people coming in and out, everyone hanging out in the common area and going out to lunch together. If you were to put the second candidate in a quiet work environment, they’d feel bored and uninspired. And if you were to put the first candidate in a loud work environment, they’d feel distracted and unfulfilled.
Environment is a big part of your company’s culture.
- Is your team remote or is everyone expected to be in the office five days per week (or a blend of both)?
- Is your work environment loud or quiet?
- Do people collaborate? Or does almost everyone work individually?
For example, at Edvo we have a blended work environment. We allow and encourage people to work remotely; however, we also expect people to be in the office a few days each week. If we hire someone who needs other people to be in the office all day to feel motivated and inspired, that person would likely not thrive in our company despite being a great fit for the role itself. Knowing each candidate’s wants and needs from a “work environment” standpoint is crucial to understanding how they’ll work within your specific organization.
Personally, I have always found it is easier to teach someone a role than to teach them how to adjust to an environment that doesn’t fit their style.
2. Work style
Intertwined with company environment, “work style” is how team members interact with one another, which behaviors are valued, and whether a new candidate is prepared to “speak the same language.”
One example of work style is how people share and receive feedback within the organization.
- Does your company only share feedback during quarterly reviews? Or does your company share feedback in every single team meeting?
- Do team members shy away from giving and receiving feedback? Or does the company celebrate these little learning moments?
If everyone on your team really welcomes sharing ideas and giving credit to the group opposed to one individual, then that’s the energy your company carries. It’s then exceedingly important to know whether the person you are looking to hire also has that same approach, otherwise they won’t feel motivated or excited to participate. In most cases, the new hire that doesn’t fit in this context feels triggered, defensive, and becomes toxic to the work style you are trying to cultivate.
This goes for nearly every aspect of the way an organization functions:
- Is your work style “take the risk, apologize later” or “get approval first”?
- Can team members move around the office and change where they’re working? Or is everyone expected to sit in their own space for eight hours per day?
Knowing how a new candidate will adopt these key habits of your company will dramatically impact whether or not they are successful and a long-term fit.
3. Company values
Values set by your company serve as operating frameworks for your team.
For example, one of our company values is to always be learning. So, if we were to hire a candidate, no matter how talented, who just wanted to show up, do their job (really well) and then leave, they probably wouldn’t end up being a long-term fit. Because what we value is building a team of people who value constant learning, contribute to “lunch and learns,” share resources in our internal workplace chat, enjoy having discussions and debates, etc
Hiring managers have to find ways in the interview process to uncover whether or not the candidate truly aligns with the company values. Otherwise, this new hire may bring an opposing set of values (again, no matter how talented they are) that negatively impact the entire team.
- If your company values transparency, ask a candidate scenario-based questions that gauge for transparency.
- If your company values blunt, to-the-point feedback, and a candidate mentions several cases when they chose to avoid providing feedback, they may not be the best fit.
4. Management style
The number one reason people quit their jobs is because of their direct manager.
A study by Gallup showed that nearly 75% of employees decide to leave a company because of their direct report. Either they felt their manager was keeping them from advancing within the company, wasn’t willing to give them a raise (or help them improve their skills in order to warrant a raise), or simply couldn’t communicate effectively.
What this really comes down to is manager/new-hire fit—which is almost always based on management style.
When interviewing candidates, this means understanding what type of management they work best under, what sort of hierarchy they expect, how they prefer to give and receive feedback, even how often they are expected to report to their manager.
I was talking to a hiring manager recently who was frustrated that a Sales Development Representative they had hired two months ago wasn’t performing well in their organization. The SDR had been a top performer at their previous organization, so I asked the hiring manager what type of environment the SDR had there. He had been one of two SDRs with the CRO setting quotas and internal tooling, but otherwise the person had full autonomy over how he achieved those quotas.
In his current role, he had a SDR manager and six other SDRs. He was expected to follow a specific process, do daily check-ins and stand-up meetings, and have weekly one-on-ones with his manager. It was clear that, despite being a top performer in his previous company, this SDR was struggling because he was in a completely new working culture (and may not have had enough support to adjust in a timely manner).
This is what makes “culture fit” such an important part of the hiring process. You aren’t just hiring around whether or not people will all be friends. What you’re hiring for, and really optimizing for, is how each individual person will “fit” into the collective whole and thrive within your specific organization.
So, before you start interviewing new candidates, ask yourself:
- What makes someone successful within our company? Identify those traits.
- What makes someone unsuccessful within our company? Identify those traits.
- Then create an outline of what reflects your company’s environment, working style, values, and management style.
- And lastly, identify scenario-based and/or behavioral questions that can adequately measure for those attributes.