The Risks and Rewards of Hiring for Cultural Fit

By
Steve Williamson, Dir. Product Development, eRep, Inc.
Posted
Wednesday, September 21, 2022
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The Risks and Rewards of Hiring for Cultural Fit

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Tags: #WorkplaceCulture #EmployeeEngagement #leadership

What comes to mind when you see the phrase workplace culture? Is it a goal you seek to achieve, or the organic result of other processes? Is workplace culture something you should define from the top down, parallel to mission and vision statements? What happens if your current workplace culture is elusive or hard to define?

The reality of workplace culture is actually quite varied, lying somewhere between mandatory and totally optional with a whole lot of "it depends" thrown in for variety and uncertainty.

The workplace experts making the rounds on the lecture circuit and on social media have some rather strong opinions about culture and cultural fit in the business world. Some even go so far as to declare your organization's prognosis to be one breath shy of terminal if your executive team hasn't boldly declared and manifested its culture. Others dismiss it as nothing more than a passing buzzwordy fad, a WOMBAT (waste of money, brains and time).

The reality of workplace culture is a bit more varied than that, lying somewhere in between with a whole lot of "it depends" thrown in for variety and uncertainty.

Let's separate the hyperbole and From On High mandates about what workplace culture is, what it should be, and whether it will bring about risk or reward in your organization.


What is Workplace Culture?

Let's get to the basics first. What is workplace culture? Definitions abound but they share some commonality.

In its essence, workplace culture is the collective attitude and motivation of an organization's workers and leaders.

Beyond that, things get subjective real quick. Culture is often, but not always, viewed as the day-to-day manifestation of the company's mission and vision. If it isn't, there is likely a disconnect somewhere.

In other words, if your culture doesn't contribute to your mission and vision, something's wrong.

The biggest difference in viewpoints about workplace culture seems to be whether it should be defined, shaped, molded, and deliberately brought about through direct and indirect action on the part of an organization's leadership; or if it is an organic byproduct of other forces such as hiring practices, mission, vision and policies.


Who Has Culture?

Every organization is different, even within the same industry, because the people that work at each organization is different. Even different departments within the same business can have their own micro-culture.

"They have quite a special crew over at the Toledo branch," an employee at the Akron office might say.

Companies with strong top-down leadership structures might attempt to impose a clearly worded (hopefully) structure upon all levels of the organization. They do this through constant reminders at the beginning of staff meetings or via posters prominently displayed at every location, almost like the pledge of allegiance and pictures of political leaders hanging on the wall of Cold War era elementary schools.

A top-down culture can become indiscernible from mandated dogma.

In theory, the rewards of having a well-defined and clearly worded culture in your workplace results in everyone pulling together toward common goals and with shared motivation. Your culture becomes your reason for the season, and every employee eagerly marches to the same synchronized step.

How you go about it will play a big part in the success or failure (or in between) of whatever culture you create.

However, the risks you face can start to feel bigger than the rewards when you take a hard, honest look at how things might go wrong.


Risk vs Reward

The first and most likely risk you face by imposing a defined workplace culture within your organization is a homogenous workforce. If you insist that those you hire must fit whatever arbitrary definition you have of "who fits the culture," then you will soon notice that every employee will tend to think the same, act the same, and even look the same.

That's not a good thing.

At the extreme end, there are some business leaders who quite deliberately use cultural fit in hiring to bring about this homogenous outcome. They might be looking for workers who share their political viewpoints, have the same religious beliefs — even to the point of only hiring those who attend their personal church — or are of the same ethnicity or national origin.

The list goes on, but it can become a form of, "If you're not already part of our group, you're not welcome."

You can't have a positive and constructive corporate culture if you deliberately lack diversity.

Over the decades, countless candidates who were otherwise well qualified have been excluded from consideration with the reasoning, "They weren't a good fit," all due to unconscious or even deliberate bias due to some personal characteristic such as ethnicity, religion, politics, sexual orientation, or many other traits that had nothing to do with the individual's qualifications or ability to do the job.

A less nefarious but equally limiting risk of hiring or managing toward cultural fit is the prevalence of group-think.

If the underlying purpose lies in the belief that everyone within an organization should think or feel or act along a particular line, an implicit form of peer pressure can develop that may restrict individual thinking and even innovation. Cooperation is great, but when the drive to be the same or think the same or feel the same continues long enough, the implication that it's better to be the same and not be yourself grows stronger.

Conversely, having a robust and healthy culture within your organization can be a profoundly positive force depending on what it is, how it comes about, and how it is fed and watered to grow constructively.

Groups who pull together toward a common goal can achieve extraordinary things.

Assuming your culture is directly tied to your mission and vision, check its vital signs as it grows. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Who does your culture include, exclude, or prioritize?
  • Does your culture lead toward a state of diversity or homogeneity within your teams?
  • Would anyone regardless of group, background or other protected class readily get behind and contribute positively to the culture, or would they hesitate or not even be given the chance to play?

Organic vs Shaped Culture

How can your organization's culture develop organically? What are the risks of allowing that to happen rather than mandating it or shaping it from the top?

An organic workplace culture is most likely to start with who you hire and why. If you only hire people who are extroverted and outwardly driven, your culture will likely take on an attitude of competitiveness, reduced teamwork, and potentially at its logical yet extreme conclusion result in a cut-throat atmosphere where one winner takes it all.

If you hire those who are psychometrically hardwired for their individual role, and their role's responsibilities are clearly defined, you will likely develop a diverse team that knows how their part plays into the bigger picture (your mission and vision), along with a high level of mutual respect between peers and co-workers.

→ Diverse teams and companies with diversity in their executive suite outperform less-diverse competitors and have higher profit margins.


The Motivation for Culture

If you believe that workplace culture matters and isn't just a passing fad, give consideration to whether you want to focus on shaping it in a deliberate manner, or if you want to let it grow organically based on the attitudes and aptitudes of your team.

You can also let your culture grow organically in a way that is informed by your mission and the diverse and individual contributions of each member of your staff.

Your culture can also be shaped by your example as a leader. Do you manifest in your own behavior and words the kind of attitude and mindset that you'd want your culture to represent? Regardless of your mindset toward the value and method of workplace culture, that might be the first place to start.


Go to eRep.com/core-values-index/ to learn more about the CVI or to take the Core Values Index assessment.

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Steve Williamson

Steve Williamson

Innovator/Banker - Dir. Product Development, eRep, Inc.

Steve has a career in information technology, software development, and project management spanning three decades. He is the author of a series of fantasy novels called The Taesian Chronicles (ruckerworks.com), and when he isn't writing he is an aspiring multi-instrumentalist and composer, a virtual pilot in a home-built flight simulator, and a cyclist.

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