June 18, 2019

Company Culture Is Like Water: Finding the Right Employee-Employer Fit


Employees who fit well within an organization are more satisfied, loyal, and committed. They also perform better and experience less stress, research has repeatedly confirmed. When there is a strong culture fit between an employee and their employer, that employee is also more likely to stick around for the long haul — very good news, considering turnover can cost an organization up to 200 percent of a person’s annual salary.

Clearly both employers and employees have a lot to gain by making sure they are a good fit for one another.

Determining compatibility requires going beyond the usual metrics, such as employee qualifications or company perks. For the prospective employee, it means knowing who you are as a person and how your identity does (or does not) align with the organization. It’s also about relationships with your customers, bosses, peers, and subordinates. Crucially, fit is about finding the right environment where you can thrive as an individual.

Adaptability and Fit

Research from Stanford Graduate School of Business urges employers to look not just at cultural fit, but also at how flexible a potential employee is. As today’s employees are asked to master new tasks and responsibilities on a regular basis, it makes sense that companies would keep an eye out for adaptable hires.

However, the fit between the organization and the individual ultimately determines whether the employee is happy, how well they work, and how long they will stay in a job. If the match is not good, the hire will resist efforts to be enculturated into the team, no matter how flexible they are.

This is why it is so important for every professional to know themselves — to know what drives and motivates you. When considering the fit between yourself and a potential employer, you must start with three key questions:

1. Who Am I and What Am I Looking for in a Business Culture?

In our society, we place significant expectations on work; it is where we spend most of our waking hours, and we Americans take fewer days off than the workers of most other developed societies. As a result, many of us look to work to provide us with an opportunity for self-transcendence, in Maslow’s parlance. If what we do every day brings us joy, we will be more engaged, active, and satisfied.

Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the concept of “flow,” a highly focused state of mind in which time seems to fall away. When you are engaged in an endeavor that is meaningful to you, you focus upon it with your whole being as if nothing else existed in your world.

When you are clear about what your mission in your work is, you can search out a culture that provides you opportunities to be so engaged. Some questions to ponder include:

  1. What excites me?
  2. What motivates me?
  3. What do I look forward to?
  4. How will joining this culture help me to fulfill this desire?
  5. What is this organization doing to consciously build a culture in which I can thrive?

2. What Is the Culture of This Organization?

There are three levels of organizational culture. The first includes all the physical, visible things: How formal is the office? Is it stuffy or casual? Office furnishings and dress codes will tell you a lot. You can find out a good deal through some basic research at Glassdoor.com and similar sites. A potential recruit should know enough going in so that they don’t have to ask, but can make statements such as “I understand things are very formal (or structured, or casual)” and know those observations will be validated.

The next level of organizational culture includes those things that people generally understand about the work environment. You can gain insight into this level by asking straightforward questions such as “What do I need to do in order to be successful here?” or “What is rewarded here?”

The third level of culture is largely unconscious. This is the stuff people don’t know they know that influences behavior, communication, and the ability to take action within the organization. This is the murkiest, hardest level to parse from outside. Some questions you can ask to try to get at this information include: “What are the unspoken rules of working here? What is expected but not spelled out? What is implicit or taken for granted that a newcomer might need to know?”

3. Will This Organization’s Culture Allow Me to Thrive?

If you are a leader being approached by a recruiter, there are a number of questions you should ask yourself, including:

  1. Is this an organization where I can lead in the way I want to lead?
  2. Can I build the skill sets I want here?
  3. Can I bring all my assets to the work I’m being hired to do?

Organizational culture is like water in an aquarium. The fish don’t know they are in water or even what water is, yet it surrounds them and determines their health. When you go into some organizations, you can tell that the water hasn’t been changed in a long time!

An organization should consciously choose to build a culture that supports its strategies. Leaders must constantly ask: Does our culture support where we want to go as a company? Does our culture support what our customers need, and what we need to succeed in the marketplace? If not, that’s a clear sign it is time to change the water — the culture that surrounds everything we do.

Tom Eddington is the creator of “The IMPACT Effect,” the new model for conscious leadership, and one of Silicon Valley’s top business advisors. Learn more at www.eddingtonadvisory.com.

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Conscious leadership expert Tom Eddington is the creator of "The IMPACT Effect," the new model for conscious leadership, and one of Silicon Valley's top business advisors. Using lessons learned from his experience as a titan of global mergers, Tom advises CEOs and non-profit leaders on everything from global mergers and organizational change to conscious leadership and life/balance integration.