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Culture Fit is The New Black

~The new black–the most popular or fashionable thing of the moment~

Hiring managers all over are now proclaiming the importance of hiring for cultural fit and training for skills later. This is especially true in fields dominated by constantly changing technology. The theory is that much of what’s on a resume could be outdated in a matter of months, so it’s best to get an employee who will fit in and train her/him when things change. So the question is, will hiring for something nebulous like cultural fit become a classic like the simple black tux or will undertones of discrimination and unaddressed skills gaps make this the ugly white lipstick and platform shoes of the business world?

Poor cultural fit, which manifests as communications issues, management style conflicts and values clashes, can lead to manager failure, poor morale and turnover. It’s the hidden costs associated with these problems companies seek to avoid when screening candidates for cultural fit. Research repeatedly confirms that interviewers tend to favor and hire those they perceive as being like them. A job candidate no one can picture fitting in with the style and tradition of the office is not likely to be hired, barring serious mitigating circumstances. However, in our quest for hiring people like us and who we also like, we often sacrifice diversity and idea cross-pollination. The concept of fit, taken to extremes, can leave us with a company full of clone-like coworkers and idea stagnation. It should also come as no surprise that qualified candidates passed over due to cultural fit issues feel they’ve been discriminated against in some way. There’s a very fine line between hiring for fit and subconsciously only wanting employees of a certain type.

We must take steps if we want new hires to fit in and be comfortable, but at the same time want to avoid creating a closed and stagnant culture. Companies need to define culture in mission related ways. Seeking innovative employees with fresh ideas is laudable; only hiring people under 40 is discriminatory. While defining and taking pride in a definitive corporate culture, a company must at the same time acknowledge the new realities of the diverse and global workplace. Job seekers should do their part as well. The pre-interview task of researching a company, and its culture, has become markedly easier due to online resources and social media. Research should not be limited to official information like a company website, but should include a news search and social media check as well. Things like photos posted by employees reveal a great deal about what a company is like on the inside.

Employees who don’t fit in are disengaged. Disengaged employees are less productive and their discontent can spill over onto others creating new and larger problems. If carefully applied, the practice of hiring with emphasis on culture fit can help companies avoid inefficiency, low morale and chronic turnover. The key is to remain open to an infusion of new ideas and personalities while still seeking new hires that can quickly integrate into the workplace culture. Done correctly hiring for fit gives a more cohesive and collaborative workplace. Mishandled decisions under the umbrella of “fit” can lead to accusations of discrimination or skills gaps in staffing. Not everyone can wear orange. The same can be said for the concept of hiring for cultural fit. Just because a concept is new and trending doesn’t mean we should all use it all the time. Hire for fit when it makes sense, but don’t neglect sound fundamentals like a demonstrated curiosity about new things and an ability to learn or you will get someone who fits now but can’t move with the evolving organization.

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About Karen Southall Watts

In 2005, Karen Southall Watts drove alone, with most of her life in a station wagon, across the United States from North Carolina to the Northwest corner of Washington to start a new life. Karen has been a business consultant, college instructor, coach and speaker since 1999. Years of working in social services, experience as…