9 Steps to Hiring a Good Cultural Fit

How important is it to hire an employee who is a good cultural fit?

The answer is simple–it’s critical that you hire people who are not only technically strong, but also align well to the values of the organization. When a leader refers one of their direct reports to us for coaching, it’s almost always related to the culture or people side of their behaviors, rather than the technical aspects of their skills. Why is it so critical to hire someone who is a good cultural fit? Because if you don’t, it’s very difficult to change an employee’s behavior to align to the organization’s culture.

For example, I am currently coaching a manager who works for an organization that places a high value on communication, collaboration and teamwork. Here’s the challenge: this manager likes to work independently and when others try to communicate and collaborate with her, she does not appreciate their involvement, input or feedback. In fact, she describes the involvement of her peers as a blatant intrusion saying that they are trying to micro-manage and control her work.

In another organization, we are working with a leader who communicates in a style that comes across as rude, condescending, harsh and abrasive. That may fit in well in some organizations, but for this company’s culture, they place a high value on communicating in a respectful style.

If the employees in both of these examples are unwilling to quickly change and adapt their behaviors, my belief is they will probably both be fired.

Our research has shown that a poor cultural fit can completely negate the positive outcomes that can come from someone’s strong skills and pedigree resume. And, the more senior the position, the more critical it is to find the right cultural fit due to the number of people they impact.

If you plan on hiring anyone in the future, listen up. Here are 9 tips in helping you hire a team member who closely aligns with the culture of your organization.

  1. Crystal clear values: Some values are easy to interpret. You clearly know the action you must take if this value is violated. For example, you most likely have zero tolerance for employees who steal from your organization. While other behaviors can seem like more of a gray area, my belief still holds true. If an employee’s behavior violates one of your values, you would, and should, let them go.

    Zappos is clear on how important values are to ensuring a great cultural fit. During their four week employee orientation process, they offer every employee $2,000 to walk away from the company. This lets them know who’s really passionate about what they’ll be doing. Besides, $2,000 is almost nothing in comparison to what the company would pay to train, coach, let go of, and replace a disengaged employee.

    As you look for new team members, ensure that they have a track record that demonstrates not just results, but examples of living and promoting your values in their past.

  2. Create an accurate job description: Ensure your job description accurately reflects not only the work that is to be accomplished in this position but also, how the work will be accomplished.
  3. Plan a structured interview with great questions: Ensure that you have open-ended questions that will allow the candidate to share examples that will demonstrate (or not demonstrate) their passion for the parts of the culture that are really important in your organization. Ask questions such as: “What type of work environment do you excel in?“ “What is your preferred work style?” “In an ideal work environment – what percentage of your day would you spend working as an individual versus working as a part of a team?” These questions will all help you figure out if this employee will make a good cultural fit.
  4. Conduct multiple interviews throughout the organization: Different people see different things in a candidate’s interview. Interesting enough, a candidate may interview very differently with the boss than they do with future peers or direct reports. If your organization places a high value on teamwork, collaboration and communication, and the candidate is frustrated with the length of time the interview process is taking, they are most likely not the right candidate.
  5. Hire for a positive attitude, train for skills: Smart people who are collaborative, quick learners, accountable, and willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, will figure it out and be successful. Best of all, they are a pleasure to work with. On the other side of the fence are the employees who are highly productive, but leave a mess that others have to maneuver around. One leader recently told me this about a peer: “He is all about making himself look good; I don’t trust him, and he is a disrespectful pain in the ass to work with. The sad part is that, because of his results, his boss does not have the guts to do the right thing… which is fire him!”
  6. Reward your employees for great candidate referrals: Employees meet and know the types of people who would fit in well with your organization. I recently went to a client’s office and had several conversations with a clerical support assistant. She is smart, efficient, productive and has a passion for serving and supporting others. If I worked for a company that had a reward system for referring great employees, I would have recommended her.
  7. Look internally: Internal candidates have already passed (or failed) any cultural test that you could ever hope to create. You have seen whether or not they live the company values, and you know what they are able to produce. A person who is highly productive, and a great cultural fit poses very little risk when it comes to the next promotion.

  8. Check references: Many organizations will only give you the employment start and stop dates. However, excellent candidates almost always have previous team members or employers who will go out of their way to provide great feedback about the candidate’s strengths and possibly even their opportunities for improvement.
  9. Deal with issues early on: Both culture and results are critical to your organization’s success. If an employee exhibits behaviors that undermine the culture and values of your organization, our recommendation is to coach, counsel and provide training. When that does not work, quickly share them with your best competitor and screw up their culture.

There is a lot of debate about the importance of cultural fit when making a hiring decision. While defining your culture may be difficult, hiring a cultural misfit is even tougher. Take your time to get it right.

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