Cultural fit is the likelihood that someone will reflect and/or be able to adapt to the core beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that make up your organization.
–Harvard Business Review
That sounds good, right? Why wouldn’t you want to hire people who are likely to fit in with your team and follow your company values? As it turns out, focusing on cultural fit when hiring can be a bit of a high-wire act: you don’t want someone who disagrees with your mission statement, but neither do you want to create an exclusionary workforce.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of recruiting with an eye on cultural fit. Tom Haverford is a young entrepreneur and founder of Haverford’s Haberdashery, an upscale clothing boutique and lifestyle brand. Here is a pro/con look at his hiring process.
Pro: Sharing your corporate values means your employees will already be engaged.
Con: You risk creating a homogeneous workforce.
Tom needs people who are committed to his brand’s goals: providing the masses with affordable luxury clothing and advice on life and fashion. He’s looking at two bloggers for his staff. J.R. is obsessed with fashion trends and lifestyle influencers; April is less interested in fashion, but very interested in marketing. If Tom chooses J.R., he’ll know that at least one employee shares his interests. However, choosing April would give Tom new insights into marketing his brand.
Pro: You have a well-rounded picture of your ideal candidate.
Con: You risk unintentional bias.
Tom knows what he wants in his employees: bright go-getters who are unafraid of taking risks. He sees a lot of himself in one interviewee, Andy, a young single guy who just graduated from college and is looking for his first sales position. Tom is also interviewing Jerry, an older candidate who has years of experience and a family. Tom agrees that Jerry has the right skills but is worried that he won’t be as adventurous as Andy. This is an example of unintentional bias (in fact, depending on his age, Jerry could even argue discrimination). Tom might not intend to pick someone who resembles himself, but his preconceived ideas about his perfect employees are blinding him to other options.
Pro: You can teach skills, but not personality.
Con: You might sacrifice skills for personality.
Tom is looking for the perfect web designer. Chris is enthusiastic and engaging–he and Tom hit it off immediately in his interview! Unfortunately, Chris has very little professional experience building websites. Ben was much more reserved, but also much more knowledgeable: he told Tom about opportunities for improvements on the current website. Tom is once again torn: he feels like Chris would be a great coworker but knows that Ben would be an exceptional employee. This is often an issue when you focus on personalities during the hiring process. Tom should remember that some people simply need time to “warm up” to others, instead of relying solely on his first impressions. In the long run, he needs to decide if it is worth the effort to train Chris or to just deal with the less-sociable Ben.
Pro: Your staff will get along better.
Con: Lack of diverse viewpoints will lead to lack of ideas.
Tom is using Donna and Craig as temporary-to-permanent support staff. Donna is laid-back, but Craig is a bit intense. While they both have great ideas, Tom doesn’t know if Craig will ever really fit in with the rest of his staff. However, interrupters like Craig are often great for office dynamics. These individuals, when pointed in the right direction and managed well, can think up innovative solutions and revitalize old processes. As long as Craig’s passion is channeled into the right place (specifically, dealing with suppliers over the phone), he will be an asset as an employee.
Cultural fit is nice, but not necessarily a deal breaker for a new hire. It shouldn’t be completely disregarded: you shouldn’t hire someone who’s personal values actually conflict with your company’s vision. You need to look at the big picture and allow your company culture to evolve as long as it reflects your corporate mission and values.