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Hiring for Culture Fit

I’ve always had a passion for helping companies build great workplace cultures. After 30 years of consulting experience in this field, I’ve come to see a great workplace culture as having a high degree of employee and customer satisfaction and retention, fostering and consistently exhibiting high standards of ethics in how they communicate and work with others (employees, customers, vendors, partners etc.). A great workplace culture nurtures a high level of trust among employees and between employees and leadership, and facilitates the achievement of goals and positive outcomes. Much as with high-performing teams, the behaviors inherent to superior workplace cultures are also present in high-performing organizations.


It can be challenging to determine what your culture is and understand what culture fit looks like in your organization. Ask five leaders to define “corporate culture” and “culture fit” and you’ll get 10 different answers. While there are many articles and books on the topic of company culture, hiring for culture fit, and how important these are to the health of an organization, there are just as many articles on negative aspects such as how culture fit perpetuates like-mindedness and isn’t good to do, or that companies need to focus more on culture “add” than culture “fit.”


That said, let’s first look at what a corporate business culture really is.


What is Corporate Culture?


A corporate culture refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and leadership interact and handle business transactions. Company culture is how you do what you do in the workplace. It’s the sum of your processes, behaviors, and values; all of which create an experience for your employees, customers, and even candidates applying and interviewing with your company. Corporate culture is how things are communicated and get done in the workplace.


Often, company culture isn’t formally defined, and develops organically over time from the leadership team and their values, behaviors, and actions, as well as the people the company hires.


A company’s culture will be reflected in how and where the work gets done; employee compensation and benefits; employee satisfaction and retention; candidate experience and the hiring process; treatment of customers and partners; customer satisfaction; communication style; how people are held accountable; and all other aspects of a company’s operations.


For example, your company may have an expectation that account managers personally reach out to customers once a problem they may have had with your product has been resolved, to confirm all is working properly. Your processes and behaviors provide employees with the “this is how we work” for managing customer relationships.


Why is Corporate Culture Important?

Corporate culture is important because it supports important business objectives such as:

  • Talent acquisition and retention

  • Innovation

  • Marketing and public relations

  • Profitability

  • Customer service

According to research by Great Place to Work and FTSE Russell, annual returns for their 100 highest ranked companies have had a cumulative return of 1,709% since 1998, as compared to a 526% return for the Russell 3000 Index during the same period.


Culture Fit versus Culture Add


I’m more interested in solutions than semantics, so here is what I have uncovered about the differences between culture fit and culture add. For the camp that says it’s more about culture add than fit, they are assuming that hiring for culture fit is when a hiring manager hires a candidate that is like-minded with their and/or the company’s views and interests. This line of reasoning holds that hiring like-minded candidates leads to a homogenous working environment that lacks diversity. The common definition of culture add that I have found is: "culture add" offers an expanded definition of diversity to include the sum total of a variety of different types of diversity that combine to allow individuals to make a “cultural contribution” to their team and organization.


This assumption made about hiring for culture fit and the potential for bias to exert a negative influence can definitely be accurate if the interviewers and hiring managers aren’t trained on effective behavioral interviewing techniques, are going rogue on what questions they ask, and are not clear or disciplined about what they are seeking to learn from the candidate.


I should point out that I’m looking at this from the starting point of your hiring managers having been trained on behavioral interviewing and how to remove personal and emotional bias from the interview (see my blog on this topic, How to Make Sure the Right Candidate gets the Green Light).

Additionally, one type of diversity that I never hear anyone talk about is Thinking Diversity, which plays out in a person’s emotional intelligence or lack thereof. It’s this Thinking Diversity/emotional intelligence that plays a big part in corporate culture and the “this is how we work” behaviors and expectations. Thinking Diversity also affects the subcultures (e.g. teams, management styles, departments) that make up the overall culture. Accurate perception and understanding of the subcultures is also key to enhancing your culture through the hiring process.

With that perspective in mind, I’m still focusing on hiring for culture “fit” because this is the language we use when talking about why someone either did or didn’t work out. However, I do believe part of that fit is the value the employee can add to the team and to the organization.


Four Steps to Hiring Culture Fit

1. Accurately define your culture

Tools for defining and describing your company’s culture include employee

surveys; discussing and describing company values or ethics; employee

interviews; objective emotional intelligence assessment culture audits; and

noting common behaviors, processes, and interactions.

2. Accurately define the management styles and teams (subcultures)

Research has shown over the years that the relationship between an employee

and their manager is the key influencer of employee engagement and

retention. The fit between the candidate and their direct manager and the

team also plays a key role in hiring for culture fit since this is a subculture the

employee experiences daily.

3. Convey your corporate culture in hiring materials

Your website, recruitment ads, and materials you provide to the candidate

should consistently and accurately convey your corporate culture.


4. Train hiring managers

Hiring managers should all be on the same page regarding the core emotional

intelligence competencies that support the corporate values and culture; the

value the candidate can add to the team and overall culture; and how to

communicate the culture to candidates.


10 Suggested culture fit interview questions

  • Give me an example of the work environment or culture in which you are most productive and happy.

  • Who is the best boss you ever worked for and why?

  • What is your preferred work style? Do you prefer working alone or as part of a team? What percentage of your time would you allocate to each, given a choice?

  • What are some of your expectations of your direct manager and the senior leaders in an organization?

  • Give me an example of an experience working as part of a team, and describe the role that you played on that team.

  • Describe a situation where your colleagues disagreed with your ideas, and explain how you resolved the disagreement.

  • Describe a challenging situation you have faced recently at work and explain how you tackled it.

  • What does a positive company culture look like to you?

  • Tell me about a time when you made a mistake at work and how you handled it.

  • Describe a situation where you felt you didn’t communicate well. How could you have handled the situation differently?


In conclusion, I believe the culture fit and culture add proponents are both focusing on the right things – hiring employees that stay, are engaged, are happy, are productive, and who bring value and energy that can enhance your company culture. I believe that focusing on building a great culture and enhancing it through the hiring process will be key to gaining a strategic advantage over your competition.

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