Assessing Cultural Fit - Values Over Knowledge and Skills

Guest Contributorby Dr. Christopher Lee | Posted | Talent Acquisition

Assessing Cultural Fit - Values Over Knowledge and Skills

It would seem that hiring the best candidate for a position would be as easy as stacking up a prospective candidate’s background and credentials against the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) required for the position. However, good hiring is not that simple. 

Using traditional measures, the most qualified candidates are only half qualified because they may not possess the right mix of other essential characteristics—values, style, and behavior. Instead of focusing on hiring the best (qualified) candidate the right way, strategic hiring selects the right candidate.

Education, experience, and skills comprise only a small part of what makes a candidate successful. A cursory review of sports and entertainment reveals the answer in a clear and convincing manner. In sports, a spectacular athlete may struggle with the wrong team. In the theater or movies, an award-winning actor appears mediocre with a script, setting, and direction that is incompatible with their strengths. The context matters. 

Ensuring candidates are a good cultural fit

The organizational parallel to the context is culture, which some experts describe as an organization’s personality. The collection of KSAs reflect being qualified for the job, the collection of intangibles reflect being qualified for the organization. It is hard to feel that you can perform at your best, if you ‘play’ for the wrong team. 

Do candidates have the same values and belief system as your company, do they like to work the way your organization likes to work, and do they act and behave in a manner that is consistent with the way your people do? 

If these elements are not in place, every day will be a grind. The potential employee will not be happy as he or she will be going against the grain. The simplest things will be difficult. Interactions with others will be a hassle. There will be disagreements on routine matters, mistakes will be made, delays will occur, sales will suffer, revenue will fall, and catastrophe can ensue. While this example might be a little dramatic, it is not too farfetched.

Research shows that employees who are a poor fit with your company’s culture are less engaged and are retention challenges. My experience has shown that they often create or are the source of personnel problems. The reverse is also true. Employees thrive when they find the right environment that fits with who they are. Small problems are surmounted, they spread joy to other employees and customers, they innovate, and they remain loyal to a company and its purpose and perform at the highest levels. 

Adopting a strategic approach to hiring

A strategic approach to hiring ensures that these ideas are integrated into the organization’s fabric—to include the talent management process. Policies that encourage the right kind of performance and discourage other kinds of actions should be in place. Compensation procedures should reward the right behaviors and the performance management system should hold them accountable for these actions and behaviors. Training programs must indoctrinate people to the right ways of thinking and acting and reinforce the culture and practices that are preferred. 

Many people would find it extremely hard to work for an organization that produces alcohol, tobacco, or firearms because it conflicts with their value system. Conversely, many people choose only to work for non-profits because it reflects their beliefs. On a positive note, some companies are obsessed with ideas like teamwork, customer service, frugality, quality, innovation, fairness, and accountability. Because these beliefs and desires permeate the organization, they should be used as criteria for how employees are recruited and selected. 

Adjusting job descriptions, advertisements, recruitment tactics, interviews, and on-boarding procedures are all part of the strategic alignment necessary select those who have both halves of that which is necessary to be successful in an organization. 

“If the shoe fits” – Finding the right candidate for your organization

Here are some examples of how to ensure you select fully qualified candidates using a strategic approach to hiring. One of the earlier versions of Zappos’ employment web page asked “If the shoe fits!” It encouraged applicants not to apply for a job with them if they did not have an appreciation for the list of Zappos’ value statements and cultural beliefs that were highlighted on the website.  

Most managers would be pleased to interview a candidate who claimed to be a workaholic, but this might be incompatible with the surfer dude culture at Patagonia. A middle manager candidate who has long sought a plumb corner office with a view might be mismatched with the servant-leader culture at Aflac. Just as an overly capitalistic, MBA-type might not fare well with mission and culture of philanthropy at TOMS. 

For all candidates that I interview for my department, I read our mission statement and ask candidates what it means to them. Candidates who do not share our passion for education and the transformative effect that it has on other people’s lives should best work elsewhere. Sure, check the block on the first half of the hiring equation and ensure that candidates are qualified for the job. Yet, even the most talented candidates do not have the right stuff if they do not possess the characteristics that align with the values, culture (style), and mission-oriented behaviors that make our organizations unique. 

Instead of conducting a traditional interview wherein you ask candidates ten questions about their past work experiences, redesign your entire selection process by first posing this question to yourself---“What should people think, do, say, and feel to fit in within our organization?” The answers will give you all of the necessary information to build a more strategic recruitment and selection process.  

Your turn: How do you ensure job candidates are a cultural fit for your organization?

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