How Important Is Culture Fit For New Employees, Anyway?


When you are hiring new employees, just how important is "culture fit?"

For my money, how well a new hire fits in with your company culture is one of the most important components to their success. Interviewing for a person's "culture fit" is something your talent managers should be spending time on as they search for that new hire.

But a lot of leaders still wonder -- how critical is culture fit anyway?

Is culture fit the most important quality?

If you believe what The Wall Street Journal says, it may be the most important quality that talent managers should be hiring for. As The Journal says:

Though employment experts warn that fuzzy criteria such as culture fit may permit bias in the hiring process and result in a lack of diversity, companies say culture often determines who succeeds or fails in their workplace.

A 2016 survey from research and consulting firm Millennial Branding and career website found that human-resources staff, when considering recent college hires, ranked cultural fit above a candidate’s referrals, coursework and grades.

I'm less concerned about "bias in the hiring process" when it comes to hiring for "fit" than I am about making "fit" the be-all-end-all quality that trumps everything else during hiring, and that seems to be what The Journal story is getting at.

Recently, I was part of a committee that was doing a search for a new leader for a prominent non-profit organization. The previous leader had huge struggles with the organization because -- and don't be surprised by this -- he wasn't a very good fit with the organization's culture.

Workplace Culture

Two things to look for when hiring for "fit"

The reason for this is because the search committee that chose him didn't spend much time focused on how his "cultural fit" was with the organization. They concentrated on some very specific job skills that, although important, didn't help him to succeed. The fact of the matter is that it was this leader's inability to fit well within the organization's culture that became a bigger and bigger issue over time, and it eventually led to a huge breach and his subsequent departure.

So, as a member of the new hiring committee trying to replace this leader who didn't fit the culture very well, I advocated this approach in our search for his replacement:

  1. Any serious candidate must have all the required skills and talents needed to perform the job. This was the bottom line and only candidates who could demonstrate that they had these skills would make it on to our lists of finalists for the job.
  2. Once we were satisfied that a candidate had the required skills, the process pivoted to the issue of cultural fit. No one made it to the finalist stage without the right skills, but we also weren't going to seriously consider them for the position unless we felt good about their ability to "fit" with our culture and help us avoid the problems we had with our departed leader.

In this way, we acknowledged that cultural fit was a huge issue, but not until we were satisfied that the candidate had all the other required skills and talents as well.


It's all about meshing with the culture

This seems to be the hiring process for a number of companies that focus on "fit," as The Journal story pointed out:

Employers are finding new ways to assess job candidates’ cultural suitability as they seek hires who fit in from Day 1. ... Companies such as Inc. have experimented with tapping “cultural ambassadors” to evaluate finalists for jobs in other departments. Inc. gives company veterans veto power over hires who might not fit in with its staff — even if those hires have the right skills for the job.

I'm not a big fan of a lot of the things Zappos does, but I agree with the notion that having the right skills for the job is only half of what you need for a new employee to be successful.

By the way, you know that new leader my committee was looking for to lead the non-profit? We found someone with great skills and talents, as well as a great "fit." She's been on the job just a short time, but from all indications, she brings the qualities to the position that the previous leader did not.

In this case, it was all about the "fit." Skills are important, but skills without "fit" aren't all that very helpful at all.

Editor’s Note: The Talent Insider blog is fueled by Checkster, and Checkster has some great tools — like the Reference Checkup and the Interview Checkup — that can help you make better talent decisions as you look to bring in people who really fit your company culture.