Cultural fit or values alignment?
“Cultural fit” - it’s a phrase that is brandished around more and more frequently these days, and I am sure that most readers will have heard of it before as well. For a phrase that is used so often, I would argue that many companies around the globe actually don’t necessarily have a consistent definition of what it means.
As a result, “culture” can also mean different things to the employees themselves. For instance, many managers, when faced with the question; “what is cultural fit?” would answer by saying that it means to hire a new employee that “would be successful within our culture”. Whereas an employee (non-manager) may give an answer that refers more specifically to the work environment in which they share. This leads us to the next obvious question; “what gives a company its culture?”
This is because a company is its employees and their unique personalities and shared environment that they create is ultimately that company’s “culture”.
What “cultural fit” really means
Firstly, let’s clarify what “cultural fit” actually refers to. Yes, it is about an employee “fitting in” at a company, but it is more about that employee succeeding at a company where they can be their normal self. Cultural fit has a lot less to do with the new employees’ personality and a lot more to do with how the company operates on a daily basis. For example, let’s say a very process oriented person is working for a company that takes a more pragmatic view rather than follows processes, would their personality still allow them to be their normal self and succeed? If this is the case, then they are a good cultural fit.
The problems arise when companies assume that they need to hire new employees that are similar in personality and background to their existing staff. The thinking here is that it can ensure that new people will easily integrate with existing employees and start successfully collaborating. The danger though is that when people are hired who all have the same personality traits (in line with the company’s culture) you limit the creativity, variety of thought and potential for healthy conflict that is important when creating better solutions.
Changing the narrative
So, should we just hire based on skills alone and ignore the “cultural fit” argument? It’s alas, not that simple and this is where values start to play a stronger role. Conceptualising a company’s values in a meaningful way can also be quite tricky, especially when you throw culture into the mix and the meanings can get confused. A good analogy to describe the difference between values and culture is;
- Values are the bricks of your house. You generally don’t change the values of a company, but you can, at times add to them. This would be like building an extension to your house
- Culture is how the inside of your house is decorated. As with changing styles over time, we update and re-decorate our houses.
This reflects the changing culture of a business over time. As it grows, it needs new processes to support it and it defines new ways of doing things, but always within the influence of the values.
How we do it Adaptavist
At Adaptavist, we live our company values. We believe our values are not there for employees to quote and read verbatim, but to exist and occur through our actions, influencing our processes, ways of working and therefore our culture.
In terms of our recruitment process, what we are looking for in a potential candidate is not their cultural fit, but how they align to our values. What do they think of them and how do they align with their own personal values? Are they something they can embrace rather than something that feels forced and uncomfortable for them to work with?
By looking at it from this perspective, we know that we can find great candidates that will align to our values but will also challenge us, bring new ideas and new approaches whilst also helping us grow and be more diverse in pretty much every conceivable way.
This is why we’ve stopped using the phrase ‘cultural fit’, because we don’t want employees and potential new hires to fit into our culture, we would rather that they align to our values.