The Hazards of Hiring for Cultural Fit

Hiring for cultural fit has become a trend so popular in business these days that hiring managers and executives can slip into dangerous territory.

With a clear definition of your company’s culture that you make job candidates aware of, hiring for cultural fit can be valuable. That said, knowing the dangers of evaluating for cultural fit in candidates can help you avoid making costly mistakes.

What Is Cultural Fit?

An employee who is culturally fit aligns with the standards and beliefs that make up the organization’s culture. Companies that hire for cultural fit believe cultural factors influence teamwork behaviors in a way that affects the bottom line.

Cultural fit points to your company’s values, extracurriculars and management culture. However, it inadvertently can come with a cloud of expectations and peer pressure. For example, employees having similar aspirations, ambitions, work paces, work hours and self-improvement practices can become highly competitive and noninclusive.

Benefits of Evaluating Job Candidates for Cultural Fitness

If company culture is important to your executive team, it makes sense to evaluate cultural fitness in the hiring process. However, it’s important you define your culture and measures of it first. Here are some reasons to hire for cultural fit:

It Positively Impacts Company Culture

You want new hires to have traits that reflect the company culture you’re aiming to see in your employees. That could mean, for example, they’re effective at being autonomous, engaged in the industry or great at collaborating.

It’s easy to assume unconsciously that a cultural “fit” means the new hire is similar to the current group. When executed correctly, hiring for cultural fit involves measuring your candidate’s culture against the defined culture your company strives for.

It Could Improve Employee Retention

When team members are happy in their work environment from a socio-cultural standpoint, they’re more likely to stay motivated, get things done and take initiative.

Ensuring your candidates’ personalities match the work environment at your company can improve employee retention and reduce human resource costs.

A large pink fish swims with a school of smaller blue fish.

The Risks of Hiring for Cultural Fit

Employers may feel new hires will learn faster and start being productive sooner if they fit in well with the group. The problem is, employers can blur the lines of what being a cultural fit really means.

Based solely on their gut feelings about who can socially “mesh” or “click” in the office, a hirer may pick one candidate over another. Without defining what being a cultural fit means, there’s a risk of using it (even if unconsciously) to lean toward candidates in a biased way.

Cultural Fit Isn’t Objectively Measurable

A study by Leadership IQ found 89% of new hires fail within the first 18 months for attitude reasons, with 11% accounting for reasons of skill. This figure reflects the risks of hiring based on cultural fit, because so many new hires turned out to be a poor fit for the company culture or their team’s work environment.

One of the problems in hiring for cultural fit is the difficulty in objectively evaluating culture in job candidates. If you’re wrong about a new hire’s cultural fit, it will affect your employee retention rate.

In assessing a candidate’s cultural fitness, you may miss out on other factors that matter and are more measurable, such as education, skill level and experience. Candidates eager to get the job can easily lie about fitting into the company’s culture, which later becomes identified on the job.

Additionally, evaluating for cultural fit during the hiring process runs the risk of turning into discrimination. By assigning merit to candidates job-related skills, soft skills and experience, as opposed to their opinions or views, you can avoid bias and see better outcomes in hiring.

You Can Be Stifled By Homogeneity

In selecting employees who fit your company’s culture and office “vibe,” you face the danger of ending up with a homogenous group representing your company.

This can be more limiting than empowering. According to research from Gartner, achieving cognitive diversity by bringing in employees with different ways of thinking can make your team more productive and better at decision-making.

Homogeneity on your team can run the risk of being discriminatory or noninclusive. When hiring for cultural fit leads to homogeneity in demographic profiles, you miss out on the benefits of having an ethnically diverse team with different social identities. While your team may get along, the lack of variance among employees could negatively affect your brand’s image. Plus, cultural homogeneity can prevent your employees from viewing their biases that affect their decision making in business and interactions with customers.

Companies with more diverse teams are shown to be more innovative, according to research on 7,600 London firms. Diversity refers to variances in age, nationality, religion, sex, gender identification and political beliefs. Discriminating against job candidates based on any one of these can’t be seen as a matter of “cultural fit.”

Defining Your Company’s Culture

To help avoid accidental bias, your executive team should meet to clearly define your company’s culture. Look at your mission statement and vision, as well as goals, objectives or other commitments your company currently states publicly. Determine whether your cultural values are well reflected in the language used in these statements. Add anything that would help clarify strong feelings the company has about culture, such as fostering an environment of inclusion or team-based collaboration.

Choose words in your company’s statements that describe the culture you aim to create and have all employees take for granted. For example, “innovative,” “autonomous,” “face-paced” or “engaging.” The office layout, dress codes and other elements that make up a work environment should all reflect the cultural values you define for your company. Naturally, it should reflect in your hiring process, too. That said, how do you assess for cultural fit when it’s difficult to measure and ascertain?

A large pink fish crosses paths with a school of smaller blue fish.

Best Practices in Hiring for Cultural Fit

To avoid rigidity and homogeneity, keep an open mind while assessing cultural fit, and take steps to actively reduce bias. Rather than looking at whether a candidate is a fit for your company’s current culture, inquire into what contribution they might make to the future of its culture.

Interview

Interviewing candidates is still an effective means for exploring cultural fit. The bulk of the interview should be on their skills and experience, but when you do assess cultural fit, share the company’s mission statement and core values. Show your job candidates you believe company culture is molded by its employees. Ask them to evaluate their soft skills and how they would resolve a conflict between themselves and another employee. Also, ask how they would respond to a disagreement between 2 teammates.

Focus on the candidate’s requirements for job satisfaction, too. Ask what amount of independent work versus teamwork they prefer on a daily basis, and what amount of autonomy they’re comfortable with.

At the end of the interview, avoid deciding whether you “like” the candidate and ask if they have a unique skill set that can add value. Beware of looking for traits that have nothing to do with giving your team a competitive edge, such as whether they’re someone you enjoy being around.

Get More Employees Involved

Another way to reduce bias in the hiring process is to have multiple employees interviewing each candidate. Two to 4 interviewers can ask just a couple of questions to each candidate separately and briefly get to know them. Another employee can be in charge of giving the candidate a tour and introducing them to the staff. By having more employees involved in the hiring process, it’s easier to evaluate cultural fit based on different interactions.

Encourage your candidate to shadow 1 of your employees for a few hours so they can get a sense of the work environment and pace. This can help a candidate decide whether they truly harmonize at the company.

Have a Solid Diversity Program with Inclusivity Training

According to research from McKinsey & Co., companies in the top quartile for cultural, ethnic and gender diversity yield more above-average profitability. Create a plan that ensures your workforce represents the variety of your community. Begin with surveying your employees to check for underrepresented groups. Then, take action to bridge those gaps. For example, hire interns in groups that are underrepresented.

Inclusivity goes right along with diversity because an inclusive workplace is able to retain diverse employees. Have your employees take inclusivity training. Foster an inclusive environment by celebrating holidays and events of the different cultures represented in your workforce.

Fostering the Optimal Work Culture

Your new hires should be evaluated based on their skills and experience rather than cultural merit. By focusing on diversity and inclusivity, you can create an environment where all employees fit and feel they belong.

Factoring a subjective measure of “cultural fit,” you run the risk of a homogenous workforce, which reflects in performance and innovation.

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Lindsay Haskell Contributing Writer at Fast Capital 360
Lindsay Haskell is a business writer who specializes in blog posts targeting niche audiences with a focus on business, marketing, health, fitness and beauty. She also writes sales and marketing copy, press releases, product reviews and buyer's guides.