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Why is Cultural Fit so important?

One of my favourite breakfast spots is located in the south east of Sydney. It is a down to earth café with beautiful food, a constant buzz of people and a laid back atmosphere. There are no airs and graces. Only 4 kilometres away is a buzzing spot with a new trendy outfit and sophisticated staff to match. Despite the fact that both eateries have identical menus and are held by the same organisation, the values of the staff and feel in each restaurant is very different. That difference is what we call culture.

Organisational or Company culture is not something imagined. It is something that is becoming more and more important in our decisions about where to work. There are very clear differences in culture in industries, between organisations and even within organisations. The term corporate or organisational culture goes back at least 30 years. The book, “In Search of Excellence” used Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) as an example of a model culture and an enviable place to work. Culture includes everything: goals, values, ideas, practices and beliefs of a group of people. It incorporates groups that share something.

A Cultural fit is probably the most important consideration when you are being recruited. It is where there is congruence between the norms and values of the organization and those of the person (Adrian Furnham – Organisational Psychologist). It is also the probability that a candidate will be able to adjust to the core values and collective behaviours of an organisation. The goal of the cultural fit interview is to assess candidates’ personal and social work styles to ensure they are a good cultural fit. Compare the open, entrepreneurial culture of Google where staff operate in a relaxed environment, can wear anything to work and have the company of their pets to JBWere with its staunch history of professionalism where dark suits are the only attire tolerable and nothing is considered dark except black.

Measuring cultural fit is not just about an introvert preferring a cubicle or closed office and an extravert enjoying an open space environment. When there is a positive cultural fit, this can improve self- esteem and ensure that staff will work close to their potential. The benefits of good cultural fit are improved job performance, stronger commitment, greater job satisfaction and higher identification with the organisation (Kristof-Brown). Candidates’ soft skills and goals are normally tested during interview stage. Some organisations utilise personality profiling to gain a more objective understanding of the candidate’s fit. Cultural fit can be so crucial that if the candidate is a cultural match, hard skill gaps may be overlooked. The view is that skills and experience can be acquired through training, but personal attributes can seldom be changed.

Example cultural fit questions include:

  • What motivates you?

  • Why would you like to work for this organisation and which other organisations are you being considered for?

  • Do you prefer to work as a group or individual contributor?

  • What is the most important factor that must be present in your work environment for you to be successfully and happily employed?

  • Describe the management style that will bring your best work and efforts?

  • How would your co-workers describe your work style and contributions in your former job?

  • What are the five expectations that you have of senior leaders in an organisation where you will work successfully?

  • Describe an occasion when you believe that you exceeded a customer’s expectations

  • When you work with a team, describe the role that you are most likely to play on the team

  • How would reporting staff members describe their relationship with you?

What interviewers are seeking is someone who shares the same values and principles that drive work in the organisation. Ultimately what is sought is a candidate who adds value and who will fit in easily. Recruiters who do a good job of assessing culture will ask for specific examples of traits that match the organisation’s culture. For example where teamwork is a core value, answers that demonstrate comfort, and even a preference, for working on teams will be congruent.

The benefits of a good cultural fit are not only to the organisation, but to the employee, their family and friends. This makes the initial cost of getting the match right worthwhile. Company cultures vary widely. If you are not successful in securing a role due to cultural fit, the organisation might be doing you a favour. If you aren’t a cultural fit for an organisation, even if you are the most talented person, it is likely you will be leaving the organisation sooner than you would prefer. So whether you prefer a relaxed vibe or trendy atmosphere, make sure you get it right.

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