MoviesEveryone is getting on the cultural fit bandwagon these days. A study published in the American Sociological Review (reported on businessweek.com) highlights the direction in which contemporary cultural-fit hiring is going, and I am wondering if it may be going a little off-piste. The study from Northwestern University shows that hiring decisions are now being made in a manner, “more closely resembling the choice of friends or romantic partners.” It seems that questions about whether someone plays a certain instrument, likes certain movies, or has a certain leisure pursuit are becoming central to the hiring process. Apparently, employers are often hiring people who don’t have the most suitable skills, but who have these quite superficial, social similarities, and this is being done under the guise of cultural-fit hiring.

Now, correct me if I am wrong, but I thought cultural-fit hiring was meant to be more than just choosing someone you can get on with or go to the movies with. Sure, socialization is a key part of company culture, but it alone won’t create profits. Isn’t it quite narrow and superficial to suggest that socialization comprises all of a company’s culture? Just because someone likes the same movies as the team, it does not mean that they will be an effective performer in the wider company culture.

There are many facets to company culture, and if employers want to hire candidates who can truly blend in and work the wheels of the cultural machine, they need to hire people who are able to connect with the company culture on many levels. Employers should be screening for this multilayered level of cultural fit at interview.

What are these higher-level cultural-fit areas that employers should be assessing to get a truer, deeper picture of cultural fit? There are many, and I have highlighted four of the more prominent ones.

1. The Decision-Making Process

How are decisions made at your company? Are they autocratic, democratic, or somewhere in the middle? How involved are employees in the decision-making process of the company or their department? Once you establish how decisions are made in your company, you might favor candidates who suit this style of decision making. Would someone who simply wanted to leave decisions to the “decision makers” be happy in a company where they were encouraged to give their opinions, or vice versa?

2. Managerial Style

Now, the individual manager may have a very distinct way of managing teams. Ask yourself: how “hands on” or “hands off” is the team management style? How much initiative are employees allowed to show or expected to show? Are employees encouraged to take risks? How are employees treated if they make a mistake or they under perform? Are they blamed, supported, etc.? Establish the managerial modus operandi of your team and choose candidates who can operate well, or at least adapt to this culture.

3. Observance of Status and Hierarchy 

Many large organizations — and some smaller organizations — strictly adhere to the ideas of status and hierarchy, whereas plenty of other companies operate flatter structures and laugh in the face of status and hierarchy, preferring to place a premium on competence and approachability. There is no right or wrong in this — just preference. It’s vital to know where the land lies in terms of observance of status in your organization, so you can potentially favor candidates with a corresponding — or at least open — outlook on status and hierarchy.

4. Formality Versus Informality

Once again, some organisations operate in quite formal, highly procedural styles, with lots of forms and paperwork, which can be comforting for some and stifling and awkward for others. On the other hand, plenty of organizations — often smaller organizations — operate according to a fast-paced, light-touch, dynamic, and procedure-free process which can be highly engaging for those who like it and very unsettling for those who prefer formality. Once again, look for people who can fit in with — or at least tolerate — your culture, in terms of the level of formality.

Now, there are many other ways to define culture in an organization, but I thought I would focus on four of the most prominent ones. The point is that cultural-fit hiring that is purely based on a candidate having similar social interests, which seems to be prevalent today, seems to be quite narrow and superficial. It really does not tell you if the candidate can function effectively in what is most likely a multilayered and complex organizational culture.

Finally, just because someone doesn’t have the same cultural outlook as your business, it doesn’t mean they can’t function effectively in this environment. They may be able to tolerate this culturally distinct environment — which is not the same as enjoying, I admit — or they may be open to adapting their style and outlook to suit.



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