Measuring Cultural Fit

How often have you met an incompetent genius? A highly intelligent and qualified team member who fails to be effective because of their inability to communicate, collaborate, display flexibility or demonstrate other equally important behaviours that enable performance.  How often has your time been consumed managing inappropriate behaviours that are impacting on clients or other members of your team? When have you observed someone get their own job done but at the expense of the engagement and performance of their colleagues? Today’s Karen Gately blog looks at the concept of ‘organisational culture’, and suggests strategies for ‘measuring’ a potential team member’s ‘fit’.

While it can be tempting to hire the person who has the most experience or impressive technical qualifications, your choice should never be at the expense of recruiting staff aligned with the culture of your organisation.  Put simply, cultural fit is the extent to which a person’s approach to doing their job and being a member of your team is aligned with the values of your business. Whatever your core values are, it is critical that you assess candidates and make selection decisions based on the likelihood of them behaving in a way that reflects these values.  Time and again I have observed leaders make the fatal mistake of prioritizing the skills and qualifications of a candidate whilst ignoring the clear signals of culture misfit; I am yet to see these decisions turn out well. Without exception they have struggled to leverage the person’s full potential and (more often than not) have found themselves managing the undesirable consequences of unsuccessful behaviours. The extent to which someone is aligned with the culture of your organisation profoundly impacts whether or not they will ultimately be a successful member of the team; it needs to be an important priority in any recruitment process.

While it is not an exact science and can better be described as an art, there are steps you can take to ensure you hire the right people.  It is crucial that you consider the candidate’s fit with your business and team throughout the process. Here are some ideas I encourage you embrace, assisting you to gauge how the candidate’s ‘way of operating’ will fit with you existing organisational culture.

  1. Read between the lines and listen for attitude; whether reading their CV, conducting an interview or completing a reference check.
  2. Assess priorities, philosophies, beliefs, attitudes, prejudices and motivations.  Consider how these reflect on the likely approach they will take to their work and dealing with others.  How will this fit with the way you want things to be done in your business?
  3. Observe interactions before, during and after interviews and other face to face interactions. Notice shifts in behaviour or expressions of attitude towards individuals and groups.  For example how does the candidate respond to and interact with people they perceive to be senior, peer or junior to them?
  4. Assessment tools – use them well.  There are many insightful tests now available that can assist you to assess fit.  It is important to remember that these tools are indicative not predictive and should be used for guidance (as opposed to a standalone decision-making tool).  For example, use information gleaned in reports to design interview questions and to guide conversations with referees.

Of course no single interview can predict performance or behaviour, but they can contribute to reducing the risk of selecting a person who will struggle to ‘fit in’. Here are some of my favourite interview questions designed to explore the attitudes and behaviours of candidates.  The answers they provide will give you insight into the behaviours you can expect from them should they join your team. Remember, it is important that the questions you ask be aligned with the values and behaviours you are looking to assess, but hopefully there are some here that will be useful in your business.

Sample Questions

  1. What are some of the important lessons you have learned from jobs you have held?  What do you do differently now?
  2. Give us an example of when you were asked to do something that you didn’t think was right. What did you do?
  3. Describe the most difficult person you have had to work with. Why were they difficult and how did you deal with that?
  4. We don’t always work with people we consider ethical or honest. Give me an example of when you’ve seen a fellow employee or subordinate do something that you considered inappropriate.
  5. Give me an example of when you were persistent in addressing issues and/or potential obstacles to completing your work.
  6. Describe the team environment that has worked best for you.
  7. Sometimes strict company policies make it very difficult to get work done. Can you think of a time when you had to bend a rule to get your work done more efficiently?
  8. Describe a time when you have contributed to the success of a team? What did you do and why did it make a difference?
  9. Give an example of when you have contributed to improving something in your role.
  10. What aspects of your work give you the greatest satisfaction?  What don’t you enjoy doing?

This blog has also been syndicated by the fabulous Business Chicks group – you can check out our article on their page here.


3 thoughts on “Measuring Cultural Fit

  1. To follow on from this post, another key to maintaining cultural fit is to continue with the communication once the candidate has been hired. A manager may not follow up once the candidate has started in the position and ask these questions during a review (informal or formal), which will (to the detriment of both parties), allow a cultural rift to occur. The key is to maintain communication and allow openness for the candidate to discuss their issues and allow the manager to act accordingly.

  2. Pingback: Driving Culture Change « Karen Gately

  3. Pingback: Startup Hiring:Putting Together an A-Class Team

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