The imperative of cultural fit

by Brent Anthony
Salesforce & Zoom Lead at Charles Aris Inc.

My friends often ask me, “Brent, what is it that makes recruiting so hard? You are working on such great roles – you should be able to find the right person immediately!”

If only it was that easy. The truth is that there are many factors which go into finding a talented individual who is the right fit for a particular organization. Among them:

  • Is the candidate truly qualified for the role?
  • Does this position offer the upward mobility that the candidate is seeking?
  • Is the compensation level in the right range for the candidate?

These are just a few factors. And those actually may be some of the easiest things to determine. Understanding hiring authorities’ technical needs can be a challenge for sure, but generally speaking, candidates either meet the technical parameters of roles or they don’t. Likewise, an organization either meets the objectives of a candidate or it doesn’t.

It all seems simple enough … but additional variables make it much more complex. One of the more difficult variables in locating the right candidate for the right company (or vice versa) is determining if a candidate and company are a sound cultural fit.

“Cultural fit” is something that can be challenging to define, but it is an incredibly important factor in finding not only the right talent but also in keeping that talent.

What is cultural fit?

If we think of the sum of a company’s products and services as what that company does, then the cultural identity of a company’s team makes up who they are. Corporate culture can be broadly defined by the composite profile of the professionals within an organization in conjunction with their relationships – with their customers, with each other, and to the mission they serve together. The communication and camaraderie between team members, as well as the leadership style of individuals within the company, are but a sampling of the factors which weave the fabric of an organization’s culture.

What is important to recognize – and what a great number of struggling organizations just don’t realize – is that the common theme among these factors is that cultural fit is almost entirely a result of the people who comprise the organization. Finding individuals who fit a particular company’s culture is critically important in maintaining that culture or in shifting it toward what that organization wants to become.

Historically, we have found that the ultimate decision to bring employees on board is a combination of technical and cultural components. Specifically, 60 percent of the decision to hire an individual is based on the technical capabilities the candidate has while the remaining 40 percent is dependent on how that person fits in with the individuals and teams in the organization. In many cases, however, that ratio can be flipped – where 60 percent or more of the decision is culturally based.

Since cultural fit is such a large component of the hiring process one way or the other, it is vitally important that both the hiring authority and the candidate understand what cultural fit should mean to them.

Finding the right piece to the cultural puzzle

For a hiring authority, it is necessary to know the culture of your team, and to have a good feel for the larger corporate culture and organizational vision. What you may perceive as the right cultural fit in your company may not be the same answer as that provided by the person in the next office over. Nor may it be the same answer as that provided by the board of directors.

So when you as a hiring authority are looking for talent, consider the following:

  • What are we as an organization trying to accomplish culturally?
  • Are we satisfied with our current culture and our prospects for sustaining it?
  • Does our culture have room for improvement?
  • If we need to improve our culture, what types of adjustments should we make?
  • Have we had difficulty attracting talent in the past due to our company’s culture?
  • Will the person I just interviewed positively or negatively impact the culture here?

The list can go on and on, but these are important questions to consider before and during your hiring process, as the infusion of a single person can dramatically alter your culture – for good or bad.

Conversely, from a candidate’s perspective, it is important to know what type of culture you want to join, benefit from and enhance. Being in the right culture can be motivating and exciting, while the inverse can be demoralizing and demotivating – and can even negatively impact your ability to perform to your potential.

So when you as a candidate are evaluating your next opportunity, consider the following:

  • Technically speaking, is this the right type of position for me?
  • If so, what management-style framework do I work best in?
  • Do I want to be in a collaborative environment or one in which I am left to my own devices?
  • Am I someone who wants to socialize with colleagues outside of the workplace?
  • Do my prospective colleagues seem like the kind of people with whom I can succeed?

You owe it to yourself and your professional future to do your homework when assessing your next career opportunity; you want to ensure that the opportunity is one that will give you the best chance at success and happiness. Culture can be a major drag on both if the organization and role don’t culturally match well with you.

Finding that right cultural fit for hiring authority and candidate alike often proves more difficult than either would care to admit. The difficulty is often rooted in definitions of “fit” which vary from person to person, within and outside the organization. What is important to one person may matter little to another.

As a result, it’s imperative that hiring authorities and candidates ask the right questions – and that they do so up front. A careful evaluation of cultural fit is essential to decision making that sets the stage for a lasting business relationship.