Hiring for Culture Fit Needs a Yardstick or Face Bad Hiring Decisions

Foreign talents, be forewarned. When a global mobility manager or company mentions culture fit as one of its corporate policies for hiring a candidate, run — run as far away from the hiring company. In most instances, culture fit in the global hiring community would be considered an aberration. Many small startups wrongfully assume that someone who they can drink beer with is the very definition of culture fit. 

Research has demonstrated that recruiters’ perceptions of culture fit in an interview often reflect a “similar-to-me” effect rather than being indicative of the actual fit with the organization’s culture. They tend to mistake alignment between themselves and the candidate for alignment between the candidate and the organization, according to an HBR study.

The HBR piece states that finding the right people is also not a matter of “culture fit,” a misguided hiring strategy that can also contribute to a company’s lack of diversity. Being with the same type of people who went to the same school and from the same field in the same neighborhood is a company with little diversity — and little chance of elevating the company’s reach beyond its neighborhood or domain.

While there have been attempts at saving the term “culture fit,” there’s no denying it’s a 21st century catchphrase that has many employers abusing this euphemism to only hire their kind of people. What many think of as “culture fit” is actually “value fit.” It’s how a person’s values align with a company’s, rather than how well their personal characteristics, such as gender, ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation, align with the current workforce, according to HBR.

Case in point: A content strategist was hired to write topics about artificial intelligence for a company in Silicon Valley. The content strategist was thrilled by the idea of writing about artificial intelligence, not realizing it had academicians in their team that had more knowledge of its specialty and who frowned on the idea of having the content strategist editing whole chunks of academic information for its app. 

The product manager hired the content strategist, because he thought she would be able to reign in the academics’ control of the app’s content. She ended up getting the boot after only a few months, because she may have solved the content issues for the app but she didn’t endear herself to the team who saw her as a threat to their work.

The product manager was also caught in between. He wanted more content improvements to the app, to make it less content heavy and more visual-oriented, but the academicians were just too solid a team to think otherwise. 

What the product manager didn’t see in this predicament was that the content strategist had a knack for explaining things visually — in a compelling way. He was also hired as a UX designer but because she became unpopular, the company had to let her go, even if she found a game-changing solution to their app content. Because it was not the content strategist’s specialty, it didn’t help her case.

It’s not that the content strategist was a bad culture fit for the company, despite her credentials and solid contribution to the company, it simply meant that the academics were given too much power and authority to have their say on the app being built. There were many telling signs. The academics made last-minute changes to the app days before its release, sending the software development team into a frenzy.

Someone had to go — and the newcomer was it. 

She was not a good culture fit, only to mean she didn’t belong in the company. Some departments in a company have established their cliques to such a degree that someone from out of its league becomes a threat. Things can get territorial. 

The content strategist was perceived as an intrusion — and was therefore a bad culture fit, which eventually downplayed her innovative content or UX design in the process, setting her up one day with a task she didn’t know, to give them a reason to let her go. 

The source of conflict here lies in the fact that content strategists think in terms of how best to market the company through its content, while the AI team knew best how to describe technologies without leaving vital information out.

The CEO had no choice. In general, senior executives don’t believe the marketing function demonstrates objective commercial thinking, a dilemma for many content strategists who also face many challenges with the deluge of content out there. In fact, the Fournaise group says 73 percent of CEOs believe “marketers lack business credibility and the ability to generate sufficient growth.”

It was an easy call. 

But this shouldn’t be the case. A clear measurement is needed.

HBR states that this can be done by measuring the values of each employee in the organization or team using a standardized value instrument. Second, because the goal is to compare the candidate’s values to those of the organization or team, the value assessment of the candidate should be done using the same standardized instrument. Third, algorithms are needed to objectively compare the candidate’s value profile with that of the overall organization or team. 

Easier said than done, because there will be more source of conflicts if cultural differences are not respected. In this case, professional differences opened up a cultural rift that could have been avoided if companies know how to tell the difference(s).

If there are certain questions you must ask and still be fair, ask open-ended questions:

• What do you value most at work?

• What do you like most about working on a team?

• Can you give an example of when you went out of your way to help a coworker or create a positive experience for a customer?

In Silicon Valley, a casual coffee meeting may not be that casual. 

Interviews don’t need to always take place across a table in a conference room, according to Forbes. Global mobility professionals may want to get to know candidates as people, by taking them out to chat over a more informal setting, like coffee or lunch.