Recruitment – Is it still about ‘Cultural fit’?

By 10th March 2022 No Comments

Hiring in any industry is always a challenge, but particularly in niche, more specialty markets like biotech and pharma, where companies are looking for specific skills and characteristics for every role. More than ever before, candidates have more options, and with demand soaring to fill multiple positions it may be harder to hire people for your organisation who fit your culture and values.

Are you hiring for ‘cultural fit’ or ‘values fit’ when attracting, engaging and assessing talent?  And which is the preferred method?

Cultural fit

Hiring for cultural fit has been a growing practice in businesses that care about creating a positive workplace environment. It simply means having the wisdom to find someone who comes across as similar in terms of personality, beliefs and values to the incumbent employees/founders; someone who fits into the company culture rather than exclusively looking for certain skills.

There has been proven connection between the business culture of a company and its financial success, and people are the drivers of both. But, as the concept of cultural fit became more popular, it veered into “catchphrase territory” and a lot of factual intention has been lost in translation.

Many companies that believe they are hiring for cultural 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, age group, common language, university or hometown — they mistake alignment between themselves and the candidate for alignment between the organization and the candidate. Then the controversy surrounding cultural fit kicks in.

Increasingly, hiring for cultural fit perpetuates bias if not carefully carried out, creates a homogenous culture, builds around consensus and group-thinking while stifling creativity and curiosity and in the long run, could limit your growth.

After interviewing 120 hiring decision-makers at elite financial, legal, and consulting firms, Lauren Rivera highlights her findings in her book “Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs”; while 82 percent of managers said cultural fit is one of the most important things that they look for, only half have a clear idea of what their organizational culture is.  In addition, only one third say their company has clear tools for measuring company culture during the hiring process.

It’s important, therefore, for organizations to re-examine and ensure that the way they assess for cultural fit is giving everyone an equal chance. While cultural fit is extremely difficult to define and assess, there are two perspectives to consider when properly screening for cultural fit:

  • Always hire on facts, not 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, act and work in similar styles, often driven by recommendations, will adapt to your approach, get along with everyone and will not ‘rock the boat’. This can undermine your organization’s diversity and shut people out based on their backgrounds, which leads to discrimination.

That notwithstanding, it’s still important for organizations to get the right people in the right positions. Some organisations have now switched hiring for ‘cultural fit’ with assessing for ‘values fit’.  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. Tools like behaviour assessments and scorecards can be very useful.

  • Consistency and calibration is key. Write job descriptions that clearly articulate key qualities and attributes for the role and use these to evaluate candidates. Putting a system around your hiring process helps eliminate human bias and ensures an equal chance for everyone.

In situations where the hiring managers continue to rely on their gut feeling about candidates during the interview process, it is important to encourage the rest of the interview panelists to challenge it; to establish the facts – what did they see/hear, and be consistent with the job description and criteria.

Values fit

Use ‘values fit’ for your hiring which is simply defined as a way of assessing shared values and beliefs, appreciating different ways of working, actively seeking different opinions and embracing diverse mentalities. This involves hiring different types of people from diverse backgrounds, driven by an open, transparent and unbiased hiring process and above all, aligned around a vision and mission to drive the organisation’s strategy. In many ways, one would argue that this was the intended idea behind ‘cultural fit’.

Values fit requires identifying beyond the skill-set what someone brings, tapping into the underlying values they hold as a person and the things that matter to them in the way they work. All these should be aligned around a set of values that define the organisation.  Remember, cultures change as organizations grow and values may be transformed as different people join the organisation.

Preferred Method

Hiring for ‘values fit’ is therefore a more useful tool when assessing candidates: It promotes diversity and builds stronger cultures, generates broader opinions and creativity and maintains a common ground to productively work together. Values fit can be assessed objectively in an evidence-based way and attracts better talent.

Think about the interview process; from the candidate’s perspective, the expectation is that there will be a technical assessment; correlating what they have done in their past experience and their capabilities in the position they are seeking. More importantly, though, part of the interview process should be based around what the candidate fundamentally believes are core values they hold and the things that motivate them, and how this aligns with what the company believes.

Remember, candidates read a lot into the questions they are asked at the interview in order to gauge what the company feels is important. Asking about values will help them determine whether you are the right company for them.

Implementing values-fit recruiting can be relatively straightforward if the prep work has been done in advance. Key attributes to getting it right are:

  • Define corporate values – be clear on what they are. This requires some effort and work and the discussions should be all inclusive.
  • Translate the values into specific competencies and behaviours; statements that define who you are. For example – We are patient-focused, innovative, professional and ambitious. These statements are translated into people’s behaviours that you can tangibly assess.
  • Use evidence-based questioning and specific examples of company values and determine if these align with the prospective employee’s values.

Overall, hiring decisions should be based on more than just a resume. They should consider people as a whole, both their experiences and how they work.  In this day and age, values come first!

 Rivera, Lauren.  Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs. Princeton University Press, May 4, 2015.