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How to Hire for a Cultural Fit

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In a recent post, “How to Hire for Motivation,”I suggested interviewers need to break through the veneer of presentation skills to accurately assess both competency and motivation. It’s important to recognize that motivation to get a job and social assertiveness is not motivation to do the job.

Uncovering the source of the candidate’s intrinsic motivation is essential for increasing interviewing accuracy. Most often this is something about the work itself in combination with the team involved, the person’s manager, and the mission of the company or its culture. So before hiring someone you need to understand not only what’s driving the person to excel but also the circumstances involved. Once this is done you then need to assess cultural fit. This technique is covered in Lynda's Performance-based Hiring training program summarized in the video. 

Here are the factors involved in determining a company’s true culture. As you'll see it's a bit different than the one described on their website.

The Factors Defining a Company's Real Culture 

  • The pace of the organization and its position on the corporate growth curve. Fast-growing start-ups are different from their more mature and slow moving adults.
  • The depth and quality of the resources available. Doing everything yourself or with a small team is different than having a support staff that expects you to leverage its ability.
  • The quality and leadership style of the hiring manager. For purposes of determining managerial fit, this factor relates to the manager’s approach to managing the new hire in comparison to how the new hire wants and needs to be managed and developed.
  • The quality of the people the person works with on a daily basis. The best people want to work with the best people and don’t do well when they don’t. And vice versa.
  • The company’s financial performance, its competition and its industry. Underperforming companies (and departments) have a lot more stress than those hitting their targets.
  • The company’s mission, value system and ethics. Whether set on high or at the local level having them is less important than how their implemented.
  • Clarity of the individual and team expectations. If a person isn’t clear about his/her expectations, the company culture won’t matter much.

For accurately determining job and culture fit I suggest the use of a performance-based interviewing process. This involves painting a detailed word picture of the candidate’s major accomplishments and then comparing them to the actual work the person needs to do to be successful. The process starts by describing a major objective (e.g., lead a project team to redesign and build the dashboard for customer satisfaction by product line) and asking the candidate to describe something he/she has done that’s most similar. 

The first phase of the fact-finding involves understanding the person’s accomplishments from a scope, scale and impact basis. Getting at motivation involves finding out where the person went the extra mile. If there’s a reasonable fit on these factors the fact-finding shifts to determining cultural fit.   

Here are some fact-finding probes you can use as part of understanding the same accomplishment from a cultural fit standpoint: 

  1. How fast was your company growing? Did you like that pace? Why or what would you have preferred?
  2. How were decisions made? Were you comfortable with this process? Give me an example of a decision you made using this approach. How would you have rather made that decision?
  3. What was your manager like? What did you like most about your manager? Least? How do you like to be managed? How does this approach impact your performance?
  4. Who was on your project team? How did you get assigned to the team? How did you impact the team? Who did you prefer to work with and why? Who didn’t you like to work with and why? Who did you influence the most? Who influenced you the most? Did you coach anyone? Did anyone coach you?
  5. Were you aligned with the company’s mission and values? What was most important to you and least important? Did you have any mismatches here that caused problems? What would you change if you could?

You can’t measure cultural fit in a vacuum. Past performance doing comparable work matters the most. Even if the person can do the work but is not intrinsically motivated to do it, the person will likely become bored quickly. However, if the person is competent and motivated to do the work required AND fits the culture you should of course hire the person. All three factors are essential. Any one factor without the other two will result in the person underperforming, yet that’s exactly why so many good people wind up getting hired for the wrong job.

Lou Adler is the CEO of the Adler Group, a recruitment and hiring firm. He is the author of "The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired." This is the second column in a four-part series.

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