Are we relying too much on “Culture Fit” to underpin the hiring process?

Over the past 5 years we’ve witnessed in the recruitment industry the prominence of hiring managers and HR teams using the phrase “Cultural fit” as a means for saying yes or no to prospective employees.  Recently, I’ve noticed a shift back to more traditional methods of determining suitability for a role. Namely, does the individual possess the core competencies required to perform the role, are their values aligned with the mission statement of the business and do they have the capacity to increase their skillset over time and grow as the company itself looks to expand and develop.

According to the Harvard Business Review, as more companies strive for diversity and inclusion, the term “culture fit” is falling out of favour. The notion of hiring for culture fit was established as a foundation of many corporate recruiting processes. The term was embedded in career sites, integrated into interview processes, and touted as a competitive advantage for many organizations in the tech community. Over the years, the term has taken on more of a tribal meaning. People who think like us. People who work like us. People who live like us. People who look like us.

I’ve been part of many hiring decisions that have a “me too” feel to them: “We like candidate A because he/she looks and speaks like us, has the same interests, is broadly the same age and thinks like us”. This can significantly limit the talent pool available to hire from, stifle creative thinking and diversity, as well preventing businesses from being re energised when they need it most.

Growing companies need leaders with the maturity and expertise to improve business operations, and the best managerial hires may be candidates who re-evaluate how things are currently done.

As the recruitment partner, we are often left feeling that we’ve provided the wrong person if 6-12 months in the company is replacing that hire. I’m dedicated to minimising the risks of this happening wherever possible.  I work hard investing our time into finding the formula to ensure not only a successful and smooth hiring process, but that the individual will go on to be extremely successful in their new career and enhance the overall company values as well as broadly conforming to their cultural identities.

I can point to 5 key factors over the past 13 years that have significantly increased the chances of a successful relationship developing, long after the ink has dried on the new employment contract:

  1. UNDERSTANDING THE COMPANY’S PURPOSE: hiring people who have a passion for the organisation, their work, and most importantly, the “why”, vision and values; the foundations of the company culture.
  2. INTERVIEW PROCESS: Clearly structured and tests the critical competencies required to perform the role successfully as well as testing capacity to progress in the business and perform more senior roles.
  3. INTERVIEWERS ARE WELL PREPARED AND EACH HAS A DIFFERENT ROLE TO PLAY: Each interviewer involved in the process plays a different role and is tasked with assimilating slightly different information about the prospective candidate’s background skill set ambition and vision.
  4. TESTING: In many cases the company have used one of the many forms of psychometric testing available on the market. It’s often down to how the company utilise the information gathered and is that information shared and maximised long after the hiring process.
  5. COMMUNICATION : communicating expectations and boundaries on both sides at key points after the hire is made is a sure way to capture and nullify any potential red flags. If the “Cultural fit” tag has been placed on the candidate at interview, often the level of frustration is only greater as the hirer can be heard saying “but we thought he/she was just like us”

Clearly there isn’t a one size fits all answer here, however Cultural fit cannot be relied upon too heavily and is only one very important part of an overall process that if performed correctly leads to harmonized teams, higher productivity, significantly lower turnover of staff and sharper growth for both candidate’s careers and organisations achieving their mission.