posted February 4th, 2016 by Brian Neese
Cultural fit is a complex concept in the business world. A company’s culture can be defined as “patterns of accepted behavior and the beliefs and values that promote and reinforce them,” business author and consultant Erika Andersen wrote in Forbes. She suggests that culture is difficult but not impossible for companies to change.
While cultural fit may be difficult to understand and determine, it should be a focal point for job seekers and companies. If a new hire is not aligned with the company culture, there will be ramifications for both sides.
Andersen reports that 89 percent of hiring failures are due to poor cultural fit. Companies fail to assess their culture, and they neglect to assess job candidates for how they would fit within the company culture. Furthermore, they underestimate the importance of cultural fit.
“Cultural fit is incredibly important,” Nancy Rothbard told Fortune. Rothbard is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. In Organizational Science, Rothbard and two co-authors examined the hiring practices of an insurance firm, expecting poor cultural fit to be detrimental to the success of new employees. They found that poor cultural fit entirely eliminated the job experience of new employees. Some companies in the study had to retrain experienced hires for tasks they had been doing for years. Around half of an employee’s success in the first 18 months can be attributed to how well the employee fits in with others in the organization — the rest depends on whether the employee can do the job.
A good cultural fit benefits employees. Research shows that employees who fit in well with their company, coworkers and supervisor have greater job satisfaction, are more likely to remain with their organization, are more committed and demonstrate superior job performance. Strong cultural fit is also linked to better mental and physical health.
According to an infographic from Entrepreneur, businesses that have high-level engagement with employees enjoy a 28 percent increase in earnings growth, while businesses with low-level engagement suffer an 11 percent decrease in earnings growth. This is particularly problematic because only 13 percent of employees feel engaged at work.
Determining the culture of a prospective employer is critical to workplace satisfaction. If a company has specific values and work-life norms that don’t align with your expectations, it will likely undermine your productivity and happiness. Remember that corporate culture includes overarching values as well as the actual workplace and relational interactions that happen on a day-to-day basis.
Do as much research as possible. Often, a company describes values and culture on its website. Look at current job openings or the “About Us” page for information about benefits and what it might be like to work for the company.
Visit Glassdoor, a website that compiles reviews and salary figures of companies based on information from current and former employees. Search for the employer to see if any reviews are available. If so, you might be able to tell how employees feel about management, work-life balance, benefits and general culture. Note that this is a platform where happy and disgruntled employees — rightly or wrongly — voice their opinions. Also, some reviews on Glassdoor and elsewhere are fabricated. Look for common themes about the company before making judgments.
Finally, talk to those close to you about the company. You may have a family member or friend who is familiar with the company. You may know someone who is linked to the company in some way. In this case, you could have a particularly insightful conversation with that person. You could ask more direct questions than you would in an interview, and you would have access to someone who is arguably more open with answers.
At the first interview, directing a question or two about work-life balance or the office environment is reasonable. If the interview is formal or you don’t feel comfortable asking about company culture, you could wait until the second interview to broach the subject. The second interview is a perfect time to dig deeper and have a conversation about culture.
Ask what the company culture is like or simply what it’s like to work there. Then, prepare your follow-up questions. What is the interviewer’s favorite and least favorite part about the office environment? How does the team provide feedback, celebrate success and resolve conflict? Is the workplace more laid-back? Will you work closely with certain people, and if so, what will that look like? Pinpoint and weave in topics that mean the most to you.
Potentially sneaky questions can also provide insight into company culture. The Daily Muse recommends asking about the busiest times of year and how often staff members meet. These answers provide basic, valuable information about your potential role along with details on work-life balance and collaboration.
The interview process provides additional opportunities to learn about the culture. Pay close attention to the interviewers and others you come into contact with to get a feel for the environment. Are things formal or does everyone seem more relaxed? Do they look happy? How are you treated? If you get to speak to others, ask them a couple of casual questions to help you understand what it’s like at the company. You may get a natural opportunity to ask about something that interests you, such as remote work or if late hours are common.
Interviewers should also ask questions targeting a candidate’s company culture preferences. Certain tendencies, such as whether the person thrives in remote work environments or with everyone in the same space, can be uncovered through the interview process.
Harvard Business Review offers sample questions that interviewers can ask to assess cultural fit. What type of company culture does the candidate thrive in? What values and workplaces are the candidate drawn to? What best practices do the candidate bring to your organization? After getting an idea of the culture at your organization, does the candidate think that he or she can be successful there?
Of course, interviews can be misleading. Candidates tend to tailor answers to what they think interviewers want to hear. For hiring managers, one strategy is to create more detailed job descriptions. “Many job descriptions are filled with platitudes and clichés, instead of focusing on the specific tasks and qualifications that a firm is looking for,” according to Fortune. This strategy clarifies what the position and company is actually about.
The most effective way to hire for cultural fit may be to rely on current employees’ networks. Referrals empower employees with a sense of ownership and provide employers with assurance that the rest of the team will want to work with the new person.
The idea of hiring for cultural fit comes with important caveats. “If your hiring process discovers if ‘you believe like we believe,’ then you are working on a core values framework,” Lisa Calhoun points out in Inc. “If your hiring approach is to learn whether ‘you act like we act,’ then you are working on a culture fit hypothesis.” When cultural fit is misunderstood, hiring managers end up looking for employees who are simply like current employees — even to the point of discrimination.
Perhaps it all depends on the interpretation of cultural fit. The goal isn’t to find employees who act like others and merely “fit in.” Hiring managers should seek employees who share the same core values and beliefs as the company. At the same time, they must take workplace diversity, personalities and work styles into consideration.
Job seekers should pay careful attention to the culture of any business of interest. Long-term happiness and success depend in part on the company’s culture. Similarly, employers need to discover their company’s culture and then find talented workers who can thrive in that environment. Far too many companies suffer lost revenue and high turnover due to a lack of cultural fit.
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