The mystery of “culture fit”

The Sphinx in Egypt. Stonehenge. The popularity of the “Twilight” movies. All great mysteries, but the biggest mystery in the world of Talent Acquisition has always been “culture fit”. Lots of people think they know what it means and how to identify it, but as the great Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride” so eloquently stated “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means”. In my experience, often when I ask hiring managers or other members of interview teams to elaborate on why or why not a candidate is or isn’t a “culture fit” I always get some form or variation of the same answer – “I just know it when I see it”. I have always had a hard time with this response and frankly think that it is not doing their organizations or the candidates justice on either end if it is something you just “know” or “feel” without any real thought or evaluation process behind it. I do feel strongly that hiring someone for “fit” into the organization is important, but how do you judge for “fit” if you can’t even define it or know how to look for it?

So, how do you come up with a way to assess “culture fit”? Here are some ideas:

Identify/Define what the culture of your team is – you need to start with the basics. Ask your team, ask yourself – what exactly is our culture here? Write it down. Share it with colleagues for clarification and verification. Starting with a baseline definition of what your culture is helps you better define what a potential fit may be. Sounds simple right ? Most companies never even take this simple step.
Why are your best employees successful – Now that you have defined your culture, the next step is to understand why the best employees on the team are successful in that culture. For this exercise, forget the resume. What personality traits make them successful in your culture? What soft skills do they all have in common? If you look at the people on the team that you think are the best “fits” you will more than likely find commonalities that you can look for in prospective hires that are demonstrative proof of personality and “fit” traits that work well in your environment.
Mirror your best – see above. Now that you have actually done the work of looking at the reasons why your best on your team are successful in your company culture (hint – it’s not the school they went to, the company they worked for prior or how many years’ experience in (insert skill here) they have) – use this as a template for “fit” in your assessment process.
Why have some prior employees not worked out – Just the same as looking at the people who work best in your environment, look at the ones who didn’t work out on the team or in the company. Why? Again – this exercise has little to do with their resume but more about personality, soft skills, etc. As important as it is to look for successful traits in assessing candidates, it is equally important to assess for unsuccessful traits that don’t work in your environment too. Now that you have your list of styles that work and don’t work on the team, you can interview to uncover these traits.
Don’t hire mini-me! – Teams of all one personality type rarely, if ever, succeed. Often times this is the classic hiring manager mistake. People like to hire people like themselves. Heck – it’s easier to manage yourself and people tend to like themselves too. Funny thing though, if you hire a bunch of “yous” you get all the stuff you don’t do well too – and that is not a balanced team. It is important to move beyond your personal biases and to hire to the strengths and weaknesses of the team.
Have questions prepared (behavioral or example based) that show how the candidate could be successful (or not) on your team – Now that you have done the basic preparation to actually, you know – assess for the basis of “culture fit” and what that means in your organization, it is important to prepare questions that drive at these qualifications. Behavioral or example based questions, if created properly, are a great way of getting at the stuff you want to tackle.
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Posted on January 13, 2015 in Nerd Stuff, Recruiting, selection, talent acquisition, unemployment

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