How to Hire for Cultural Fit

Here’s a guest post from Right Management’s Michael Haid, a nice follow-up to “It’s the soft Stuff That’s the Hard Stuff“.

It’s also part of a guest blogging exchange – see my post on Distributed Leadership over at Right’s Talent@Work blog.

It’s not what you know, but how you fit in the culture that results in accelerated performance. While technical skills generally can be taught, cultural and motivational fit involve innate characteristics that can be difficult – or impossible – to coach or develop. The clear implication is that leaders need to hire employees who, in addition to meeting the technical requirements for the job, naturally have the right qualities that mesh with the overall organization or team.

How, then, should you proceed? We suggest taking these four steps:

1. Identify your culture and the behaviors needed to support it.
That means pinpointing your organizational values, norms and beliefs and how employees should act when they are behaving in accordance with that culture. It’s important because, while leaders often tend to describe their cultures using the same words, the definitions in the context of the organization often differ dramatically, as do the specific behaviors required to support those values.

Take the matter of innovation. At one company, that may take the form of encouraging risky, out-of-the-box thinking leading to revolutionary change. But, another organization that values innovation might have a very different, but equally valid, interpretation emphasizing incremental improvement and the analytical behavior best suited to support that approach.

Similarly, organizations that value being customer focused may be willing to do whatever it takes to ensure customers come first. To that end, they would need people willing, say, to sacrifice margins or bend the rules to accomplish their goal – and who are unlikely to burn out in the process. Other companies, however, might have a less-extreme definition of what it means to be customer-centric and, as a result, want more-conservative individuals interested in balancing the needs of customers and the business.

2. Decide whether you want the status quo or you need to change the culture.
In some cases, to meet competitive pressures, you might have to change the culture to move the organization forward. While in the past, you might have valued a cautious approach to research, for example, your current environment might require a faster pace. In that case, you’ll probably have to look for an entirely different set of behaviors from those required to maintain the status quo. And, of course, you’ll share that information with HR, so the assessments you use in hiring will reflect those new needs.

In the case where the culture needs to brought forward through change, you should add another element to the assessment: tools that pinpoint whether the applicants have what it takes to be change agents. That’s because, in addition to demonstrating the right behaviors, your new hires will need the resilience to withstand the pressures of being the harbinger of a new culture, the ability to lead the way even in the face of resentment – or even outright ridicule.

3. Partner with human resources to assess for the right cultural fit.
Once you’ve isolated the important behaviors you need to support your culture, you can share that information with your HR professionals. Using a wide variety of tools, from motivational fit assessments and role-playing exercises to personality inventories, and perhaps working with outside consultants, HR can design an effective assessment that gives applicants the opportunity to demonstrate whether or not they’re a good fit.

4. Share with your new hires what you learned about them through the assessment process.
During the first 90 days at work, discuss the results of the assessments, contingent on local laws governing what information can be divulged. Since a thorough assessment process will identify not only cultural fit, but areas of strength and weakness, you can give the individual, in effect, an early performance review. Perhaps the person scored high on team interaction, but lower on delegation. You then can immediately set the wheels in motion to develop those skills that need work while immediately leveraging strengths.

In that way, you will further accelerate your new employees’ development, reduce the time it takes for them to make substantive contributions and feel immediately valued and engaged – all of which significantly affect the impact the individual has on the organization.

Michael Haid, Senior Vice President for Global Solutions, Right Management, oversees Right’s Talent Assessment solutions portfolio, responsible for designing global, scalable individual, team and organizational assessment solutions delivered to meet critical and emerging business needs. Michael has more than 15 years of extensive consulting and leadership experience in the areas of selection, assessment and leadership development.