Two hands holding up two large jigsaw pieces against orange sunlight, representing company culture fit.
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Is the company culture fit just a myth?

8 Oct 2018

A lot of weight is put on whether or not employees are the right ‘fit’ but HR leader Robin Schooling is wondering if it’s that simple.

The importance of aligning hiring to organisational culture is endlessly discussed, debated and analysed. Everyone from researchers to C-suite leaders to HR professionals has an opinion on how to achieve this seemingly elusive nirvana. We constantly ask ourselves: ‘What’s the best way to ensure the individuals we’re hiring are a “fit” with our culture?’

Most of us have a clear definition of organisational culture; we understand it’s the collective behaviour of the people who are part of the organisation, as formed by vision, values, norms, systems, beliefs, symbols and traditions. We know that culture affects the way individual employees and groups interact with each other, as well as customers, clients and other stakeholders.

Yet it’s also important to remember that there is not one person (or group) who defines, owns and controls culture. Culture cannot be manufactured or created out of nothing. It’s not a poster on the wall or a list of PR-generated values and platitudes on the company website.

An organisation is not a ‘collaborative’ organisation merely because the CEO says it is. Culture is not aspirational, although any organisation can set a goal and work relentlessly toward shifting the culture in a fully supported and purposeful way.

Culture, which is owned and adjusted by everyone, is what exists today. It’s what we’re living in now. Apart from major upheavals brought about by people, change or other forces, it simply ‘is what it is’.

Bad company culture?

When I reflect on the various places I’ve worked, there is one organisation that stands out as the absolute worst. It was such an incredibly horrible experience that it has long since disappeared from my résumé and LinkedIn profile.

Things started off fantastically. I was referred by a former co-worker to this rapidly growing, family-owned business with about 100 employees for a role to build the HR department and position the company for further growth.

I was wooed and courted and promised endless opportunities. I also discovered that numerous family members worked there. ‘How nice!’ I thought (in my naivety). It turned out that these longtime employees were akin to prisoners, hardened to anything that resembled life outside the prison walls.

They were fully accustomed to the owners screaming over the intercom, cursing at employees in meetings and treating everyone with openly veiled distrust. Every single day, multiple employees came to my office in tears.

I quit after four months.

Was it a bad culture? It was filled with toxic people, the traditions were questionable and the legalities of the HR practices were tenuous.

Yet a fair number of employees had been there for 10 or more years. They obviously didn’t have any problems with the micromanaging and poisonous owners. Many of them, as I quickly discovered, yelled at each other all day, indulged in suitably passive-aggressive shenanigans and, then, as best I could ascertain, merely replicated that behaviour on the home front.

It was me who didn’t ‘fit’.

As my friend (and WorkHuman 2017 collaborator/co-presenter) Bill Boorman likes to say: “There’s no such thing as bad culture, there’s just bad culture fit.”        

Hiring for culture fit

The game-changer in all this is making sure we hire for reality, the ‘what it’s really like to work here today’ culture. We can’t hire for what we hope to be or what we think we are. If we do, people will quit after four months. We can, however, focus on a few key areas:

  • Provide clear messaging: Share the reality and ensure you’re real and authentic throughout the process with a goal of attracting, selecting, hiring and retaining the right people. Do you have a quiet, buttoned-down office atmosphere where people speak in hushed tones with minimal levity? That’s OK! Some people thrive in that work environment, so don’t try to highlight the two times per year when you have a company party. Convey the actual day-to-day environment.
  • Realise ‘fit’ does not equal sameness: You’re not building an army of Stepford wives. Diverse hires with varying backgrounds, experiences and styles will bring new ideas and input. ‘Fit’ does not mean everyone enjoys the same after-work activities or belonged to the same types of clubs in school – remember that.
  • Focus on attracting the right candidates: Your messaging and recruitment marketing should be geared toward encouraging people not to apply (mind-blowing, right?). Have as many conversations as you want with candidates but when it gets down to who you want the recruiters and hiring managers to spend time with, your goal should be to narrow the applicant pool to individuals who understand your culture and want to work with you, whether good, bad or ugly.

Hiring for culture fit means ensuring that both the organisation and the new employee realise a right decision has been made and both sides have all the necessary information as they enter what can be a wonderful and fulfilling future together.

That, my friends, is a tremendously human way to hire.

By Robin Schooling

Robin Schooling is a HR leader, speaker, author and future-of-work expert.

A version of this article originally appeared on Globoforce’s blog.

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