Hiring for cultural fit is a growing trend. Today’s employers are no longer settle for employees with good technical skills; they want employees who also fit in with the social and cultural atmospheres of the business.
A 2013 survey from Cubiks illustrates how important cultural fit has become in the hiring process: according to the survey, 82 percent percent of respondents think that culture fit is important, and 59 percent of respondents said they have rejected applicants due to a lack of cultural fit.
This move toward hiring for cultural fit is not surprising, really, when you consider that the vast majority of new hires fail because they lack the proper attitudes. It’s clear that cultural fit seems to be a clearer driver of performance than skills and credentials.
However, cultural fit still remains quite ill-defined as an assessment criterion. Many employers simply define cultural fit in an off-the-cuff, I-know-it-when-I-see-it manner. For example, the Cubiks survey mentioned above found that, even though 59 percent of respondents had rejected candidates due to a lack of cultural fit, just 32 percent of organizations actually measure cultural fit in some (semi-)objective way. What this means is that a lot of cultural fit hiring is being done on the fly and without much oversight.
This has lead to some misapplications of the practice, such as was found in this study of top investment banks. After researchers spent nearly a year talking to decision-makers at more than 100 institutions, it became clear that cultural fit was a key factor in determining whether a person would be hired. What also become clear was that cultural fit was not related to organizational values. Rather, managers were hiring people based on whether or not they would enjoy socializing with them.
This is an example of cultural fit hiring being misapplied. Employers were making decisions based on shallow social criteria, such as hobbies, interests, and favorite movies, when they should have been considering how well candidates aligned with the organization’s values.
All too often, companies fail to develop clear organizational values and/or incorporate these values into the hiring process. This means that many organizations that claim to hire according to cultural fit are not actually doing so.
Hiring based on shallow social criteria not only fails to deliver any of the benefits of true cultural fit hiring – e.g., higher-performing, longer-serving employees — but also leads to homogeneous teams, lack of diversity, and harmful groupthink.
So, what does true cultural fit hiring look like, and how can it be implemented?
It all starts with defining those core values. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Zappos CEO Tony Hiseh offers a good example of what organizational values look like in practice when he outlines his company’s core values as such:
- Deliver WOW Through Service
- Embrace and Drive Change
- Create Fun and a Little Weirdness
- Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
- Pursue Growth and Learning
- Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
- Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
- Do More With Less
- Be Passionate and Determined
- Be Humble
Notice how Zappos’s core values don’t include shallow social criteria, such as like golf, play tennis, listen to classical music, etc. Such hobbies and preferences have no bearing on how well a candidate can do their job and succeed in the company.
Of course, I am not suggesting that you copy these values directly from Zappos. Rather, you need to set your own values, values that reflect not only your work culture, but also the aspirations of your leaders and employees.
It’s also important that you don’t just leave your core values to gather dust in the boardroom. Instead, you should use your core values to formalize the hiring process, ensuring that cultural fit is judged according to alignment with the organization’s values. You can do this by factoring core values into your structured-interview questionnaires, or you could even go as far as holding specific interviews dedicated to analyzing candidates’ levels of cultural fit.
Following such a formalized, organized process is the best way to ensure that your organization is gaining all the benefits of true cultural fit hiring and not simply hiring people according to useless criteria.