Cultural fit is one of those human resources terms which seems easy to define but in reality is quite problematic. Everyone wants to work alongside people they get along with, and any business has a certain culture in how employees are treated, where people work, and a million other things. So all a company has to do is to find people who fit in with the company culture and the result will be satisfied, committed workers. Everyone knows the old adage “Hire for character, train for skill.”
But while there are good intentions behind the idea of hiring for “cultural fit,” it is a road which can quickly lead down the wrong paths and harm your business over the long run. Here are some major problems with “cultural fit,” and how managers and HR employees may want to use other practices to find workers with great character.
Discovering the Company’s Culture
The first problem with hiring for “cultural fit” is that you may not actually know your company’s culture. To be more specific, what a HR manager thinks are his company’s core cultural values can be very different from what the regular employees think. As CIO reported, a study which polled over 1,800 working adults found that HR and management respondents failed to identify employees’ three-most important attributes. Furthermore, HR, management, and employees were all convinced that they were the biggest contributor to the company culture. You can view website to see an example of these principles put into practice.
Even if you do not intend to hire for cultural fit, you should endeavor to find out what your business’s culture is really like. Invite a wide cross-section of employees and ask them to describe the company culture. Avoid using buzzwords. Instead, focus on specific behaviors and responses to different situations, and precisely define them. These behaviors come from your business’s core values, and knowing those core values will help define your company culture.
Cultural Fit and the Diversity Problem
While cultural fit is supposed to mean finding people who fit in with the company culture, all too often it means hiring people that you get along with. That may sound like a good thing, but the problem is that we get along with people who are the most similar to us, particularly in regards to race and gender. Hiring for cultural fit thus becomes an open barrier towards hiring women and minorities.
Remember why companies like Google and Facebook are working to promote diversity in their workplaces. It is not to stay politically correct or avoid discrimination lawsuits, but because people from different backgrounds have different perspectives on a problem and can propose a wider variety of solutions. A corporate culture where everyone shares similar values can quickly become a culture where no one wishes to stand out and rock the boat, which can lead to disastrous consequences.
However, all the diversity programs in the world are useless if hiring managers consciously or unconsciously hire or promote people with a similar background to themselves because that Latino woman does not fit the company culture for some reason. Furthermore, promoting hiring for fit also makes it more likely for a hiring manager to simply hire those he gets along with the best as opposed to those who are the most qualified for the position.
Fit vs. Values
Cultural fit is a problematic hiring policy which can harm company diversity, but there is something useful at the core of this idea – namely, that businesses do not just want skilled workers, but cooperative, ethical human beings in their business. But instead of thinking about hiring workers based on how they will fit, why not just get those ethical humans?
You may say that is easier said than done, but I already discussed how your company can find its core values by communicating with the various cross-sections. Once you know what those core values are, you can emphasize those values throughout the hiring process to find workers who share those values. The Harvard Business Review has some excellent tips for how HR managers can find individuals who possess the right core values.
A Better Hiring Process
Hiring for cultural fit is not a bad idea in theory. But when businesses do not know what their cultures truly are and only give HR managers a vague directive of hiring based on “fit,” managers will inevitably hire people similar to themselves or people they like as opposed to decent people who embody the values the company stands for.
Your new hires are not just pieces fitting into a puzzle. They are additions taking your company to a higher level no matter where they come from, and it is important for hiring managers to remove bias from their decisions as much as possible. By emphasizing values instead of fit and talking about the importance of diversity, your business can step away from the trap of cultural fit and towards a superior hiring process.
I'm a creative and passionate HR Director with 15 plus years proven experience up to board level in international and world-class organisations.
I have had the privilege of working on a wide range of projects that have enabled me to apply my leadership and technical skills and I have proven expertise in managing change, business integration and outsourcing, including TUPE/ARD. I am currently looking for my next intellectual and professional challenge.