MightyRecruiter recently spoke to Kevin Grossman, vice president of the Talent Board, about his thoughts on cultural fit and why hiring a pool of like-minded employees may hamper – not help – a company’s innovation.
Alongside leading Talent Board, a non-profit organization that provides companies access to aggregated candidate experience datasets, Kevin also spearheads the Candidate Experience Awards and produces and hosts a new learning show called Reach West Radio, where each week he talks with his guests about their effectual stretch and the impact it makes in the worlds of work and life.
Q: Why has “company culture” become such a buzz phrase in the recruiting world in recent years?
A: I think it’s, in part, because there is so much discussion around team-building and diversity and overall fit and innovation and retention – all of which aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. And not just diversity as it relates to gender and ethnicity but also to diversity of thought, which is yet another buzz word in business today.
These are all important because we better understand how complex the employee-employer relationship is today. For decades there was this cookie cutter approach to the workplace, but in recent years that has changed dramatically thanks to factors like global competition, contract work, open workspaces and telecommuting. The people you need in your organization today might not be people who necessarily can come into the office, and they may very well work remotely almost 100% of the time. This has changed the way companies hire, as well.
Q: How do you define cultural fit?
A: ‘Cultural fit’ is a term that’s used a lot to explain how companies are identifying the right candidates in this very competitive marketplace, but I’m not sure basing hiring decisions on the idea of cultural fit is always the right strategy. I am of the camp that thinks that ‘cultural fit’ is a misnomer. I don’t really know what it means, to be honest. We all talk about it a lot, but I’m not sure most recruiters or hiring managers know what it means either.
Culture comes from the inside out, but it’s messy and a moving target depending on the success (and failure) of a company and its leadership. But the problem is trying to define it and use it in the recruiting process. Sharing what it’s really like to work at an organization is something more companies are leveraging, with the goal of transparency in hopes that the work-in-progress employee value props shine through. Still messy, though.
But I think that’s what many of us want to see today when we’re searching for a job. Does hiring for cultural fit mean hiring like-minded individuals that are going to get along and work well together? Or does it mean hiring a group of people who are really pushing one another to grow and thrive but who don’t necessarily always see eye to eye?
Leaders have to decide whether they are more interested in homogeneity, which I think is at risk of being created when you hire based on one-size-fits-all company culture, or if they are willing to risk having more contentious interactions in their organizations thanks to diversity of thought.
In my opinion, those types of interactions can be an opportunity to grow and thrive and become more innovative – and there’s more and more research from the likes of McKinsey and others that validate this.
Q: How can a company ensure that new hires are a good ‘cultural fit?’
A: Again, there is a homogeneity issue [that comes with the idea of cultural fit.] I believe that an organization’s culture shouldn’t be an umbrella concept. I think culture is more fragmented than what we would like to believe.
I keep pushing back on the idea of cultural fit because I don’t think a one-size-fits-all approach is going to work for most companies. I think ‘fit’ is contextual to the role and what part of the organization that individual candidate will be working in. The person that you want in sales, for example, is not the same kind of person or personality that you are going to want in an office administration role.
Yes, maybe a company touts an overarching theme of ‘work-hard-play-hard,’ or any of the other clichés that companies use to describe their culture.
But, if the talent acquisition team plans to develop personas for ideal candidates, I think it needs to be done on a role-by-role basis, or on a department-by-department basis at the minimum.
Many of the companies that participate in our Talent Board research, especially those that win our Candidate Experience Awards based on their candidate ratings, know that there’s a granularity of fit throughout their hiring efforts – almost a mosaic of cultural fit if you will.
Q: So, you think that there would be a different cultural fit for a marketing department than, say, for a sales department, even within the same organization?
A: Yes, I think so. One one of the universal things that we know about Apple, for example, is that it is a highly insular, secretive organization. In a way, that is a unifying cultural theme for them and maybe one of the reasons – other than making great innovative products – that they have been so successful. But I would argue that even employees who are indoctrinated into the ‘Apple way’ aren’t all going to be the same basic personality. I would argue, again, that what constitutes a good fit for a company is going to be different if you are an engineer or an office admin, even within an organization that touts culture as an important factor in recruiting. Again, consider the mosaic of cultural fit.
Culture does get pressed down from leadership as well and how they want their organization to be seen and run and grow. But I would argue, again, that if I’m a CEO and I need a someone for a business development and sales role, that is not going to be the same person that I need to be working for me in the mailroom. That’s where I think the idea of fitting into one company culture kind of goes out the window for me.
Q: If you don’t buy into the idea of there being a perfect ‘cultural fit,’ then which approaches or tools have you found to be most useful in determining which candidate is going to be most successful in an organization?
A: I think that the best way to predict success is to use behavioral questions during interviews and, when possible, to put candidates in scenario-based screening situations. For example, put a candidate out on the retail sales floor or have a jobseeker applying for a marketing role sit in with the team to help create a marketing plan. Finding out how a person is really going to react to certain situations on the job alongside their potential colleagues, to me, is a more accurate representation of whether or not a person is a ‘fit’ for a company, rather than just being likable.