You Can’t Do “Culture Fit” Unless You Know What Your Culture Really Is

Note: this post is the first in a five-part series on “Navigating Culture Fit in 21st Century Organizations.”

Be Happy

I hear a lot of support among both candidates and hiring managers that the idea of “culture fit” is important. Most of us can remember at least one instance in our work life where the organization hired that person who looked really great on paper and had the perfect combination of skills and experience—only to have them leave after a few months, because they way they did their work simply didn’t mesh with the way “we do things around here.”

Okay, but here’s a bit of a wake-up call: you will NEVER get culture fit right unless you start getting rigorous and disciplined about culture, to begin with. This has implications for both organizations AND job candidates.

For organizations, you need to take a hard look at how your people answer the question, “So, what’s the culture like here?” If your answers are vague and overly positive (It’s great! We have a fun culture! We’re like a family around here!), then you’re not doing it right. Culture is more important than that, particularly in today’s environment. Most surveys will tell you that Millennials feel that culture is as or more important than pay and benefits when considering a position. So when they ask you about culture, they want to hear more than “fun” and “family.”

They want to know how collaboration is done in your culture. Can you work with people from other departments without getting permission from the leaders? Is there a bias toward action, or do people wait for permission from the higher-ups first? Do you hire people who are good at facilitating and solving problems themselves, or do they rely on the chain of command?

And collaboration is just one slice of your culture. They’ll also want to know about things like transparency, agility, innovation, and inclusion. If you cannot tell the story of your culture down to that level of detail, your candidates will be hesitant about making the move.

On the candidate side, I’m afraid I’m going to hold you accountable to some discipline and rigor as well. When you ask about culture, I hope you’re not just wanting to hear about taco Tuesday and ping pong tables. If you are lucky enough to get an organization that can lay out the actual building blocks of their culture, then I expect you will be able to answer honestly about whether or not it is a fit for you. That means YOU have to know whether you can thrive in an environment where everyone is expected to make decisions, or if you actually prefer a little chain of command.

The more disciplined everyone is about understanding what culture is (and, therefore, what culture fit really means), the more successful our hiring will be.