Hiring for culture fit has been a growing practice in businesses that care about creating a positive workplace culture. There is a proven correlation between the business culture of a company and its financial success, and people are the drivers of both. Hiring for culture fit simply means having the wisdom to find someone who fits into the company culture rather than exclusively looking for certain skills.
But as the concept of culture fit became more popular, it veered into buzzword territory. Many companies that believe they are hiring for culture fit are actually just hiring people they identify and “click” with. When a candidate shares a particular trait, background, or life experience with the hiring manager — think a common sports team or hometown — they mistake alignment between themselves and the candidate for alignment between the candidate and the organization. That’s when culture fit becomes controversial.
It’s important for organizations to reevaluate and ensure that the way they screen for culture fit is giving everyone an equal chance. Here are two perspectives from purpose-driven leaders on how to screen for culture fit well.
Your Gut Is Biased, Hire On Facts
Emily Tetto, VP of Talent & Culture at Acceleration Partners, has one piece of advice for leaders when it comes to hiring for culture fit: never, ever, ever trust your gut.
More often than not, your gut guides you to hire people who are similar to you, which can lead to a homogeneous culture: people with similar backgrounds who think and act in similar ways. This can undermine your organization’s diversity and shut people out based on their backgrounds, which leads to discrimination.
But it’s still important for organizations to get the right people in the right seats. At Acceleration Partners, they’ve replaced hiring for culture fit with screening for cultural attributes.
“We have our core values, and they are: own it, excel and improve, and embrace relationships,” says Tetto. “Those are three different attributes we want to make sure candidates possess and have demonstrated in their previous experience. Those are attributes that can and do cross a wide range of demographics and types of people.”
Consistency and standardization is key. Write job descriptions that clearly articulate key qualities and attributes for the role and use standardized scorecards to evaluate candidates. Putting a system around your hiring process helps eliminate human bias and ensure an equal chance for everyone.
Still, you might find that your hiring managers continue to rely on their gut feeling about candidates during the interview process. When that happens, Tetto encourages leaders to challenge it.
“We have to dig in and ask why. What are the facts? What did you see? What did you hear?” says Tetto. “You have your job descriptions and your scorecards — you know your outcomes and you know what you want. Your gut is biased, hire on facts.”
A 5-Step Framework for Culture Fit
There’s increasing evidence that in many organizations, the idea of culture fit is not being handled responsibly. In her book Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs, Lauren Rivera highlights her findings after interviewing 120 hiring decision-makers at elite financial, legal, and consulting firms. While 82 percent of managers said fit is one of the most important things that they look for, only half have a clear idea of what their organizational culture is — and only one third say their company has clear tools for measuring fit during the hiring process.
“That’s where culture fit can come into play as a negative force,” says Connor Lynch, EVP and Managing Director at Rescue Agency. “Without a thoughtful process in place, ‘culture fit’ can become very personal and veer into ‘social fit’ — hiring people that you click with or who are like you. Organizations then run a big risk of discriminating against candidates from different backgrounds.”
Lynch recommends organizations build a measurable and consistent framework to screen for culture fit well. Here are the five elements to keep in mind:
Diversity and Inclusion
If we only hire people we “click with,” businesses run the big risk of discriminating against candidates from different backgrounds. Fit doesn’t mean people who share your interests, identities, or personality traits — it’s about finding someone who shares your company’s values and has the right skills and experiences.
You can’t measure fit unless you have a very clear, well-defined understanding of your company culture. How do you assess for the values that matter most to your company?
Culture Should Tie to Strategy
What is your company culture and how does it ladder up to your business strategy? Screen candidates for the attributes and qualities that make your culture — and your business — successful.
Systematic & Measurable
Keep your gut out of your hiring decisions. Develop a system for measuring and rating employee fit and ensure each candidate is run through the same process. Start with tools like behavior assessments and scorecards.
List Meaningful Qualifications
Aside from education and years of experience, what qualifications should the candidate possess? Your job descriptions and interview questions should evaluate candidates holistically for the experiences, skills and qualities of a successful candidate.
I always say to hire the heart and not the head. I base hiring decisions 60 percent on fit and 40 percent on skills. This principle holds true whether you have two employees or 2,000, but it fails without a clearly-defined culture and a consistent process for evaluating candidates for fit.
“Working with people you click with isn’t culture,” says Tetto. “We hire people who have cultural attributes that align with the ‘AP way’ — the culture, values, and beliefs that make our company a great place to work.”