Recruiting for cultural alignment

The environment businesses operate in today has never been more dynamic. There is a growing societal demand for businesses to be more conscious and to reflect more sustainable attitudes.

Why then, do many recruiting ads and agencies emphasise qualifications and experience, when businesses are interested in a candidate’s capability and their ‘cultural fit’ with the organisation? We believe that this is because it takes more time and conscious effort to determine these attributes, and that is at odds with the world that insists solutions must be fast and simple.

Recruiting is one of the most important tasks any organisation routinely engages in. I doubt many employers would argue that who a business invites into their organisation has a massive impact on their culture and productivity.

When we say ‘values and culture’, we mean those values and behaviours that best describe how a company interacts with their stakeholders, both internal (employees and partners) and external (customers, suppliers and the community in which it operates). A company’s culture is often implied and tends to evolve over time.

The problem with a focus on recruiting for qualifications and experience is that this approach is transactional. It might be efficient, but there are fundamental problems with the effectiveness of this strategy. The evidence for this is overwhelming. Almost all businesses can attest to having recruited experienced and ‘suitably’ qualified individuals, only to have them exit a short time later because they didn’t fit the company culture.

A transactional recruiting approach assumes that business is a static entity with narrowly defined requirements. The logic seems to be that by simply filling the vacant position, the business needs will be solved. The fact is, all businesses are comprised of human beings, and it is these human characteristics — our capacity for connection, ingenuity, passion, diligence and purpose — that creates a successful business.

What if there is an alternative? Recruiting the way professional sporting teams do, adopting a more systematic approach. Many highly successful sporting teams start by accepting that the overall performance of the team depends on how all the parts fit; not how the parts perform separately. The focus is on an individual’s potential to grow, perform and contribute to your teams.

Because team and cultural behaviours are so important in today’s workplace, matching candidates that align with your company’s values and purpose is key. It demands the business consider sustainability and focus on the recruit who is likely to be a better fit for your organisation now, and in the future.

Recruiting for values and cultural fit also includes important reciprocal aspects. As much as the candidate is expected to sell themselves to an organisation, the organisation is also selling themselves to the candidate. In a globally competitive marketplace, where motivated employees are looking for a career, they want to know that your organisation can deliver by matching their aspirations with your own.

So, what’s the catch? Actually, there isn’t one. However, this approach does require a good deal more conscious thought, planning and effort.

How do businesses select candidates based on cultural fit?

Before assessing a candidate, it’s a good idea to invest the time to create a detailed task map of your recruitment process, as it:

  • Enables better estimates of the time and resources
  • Allows you to communicate the process to all those involved, including the candidates
  • Ensures role clarity and accountability
  • Ensures commitment by decision makers
  • Improves your ability to treat candidates with fairness, respect and professionalism

Recruiting for values and cultural fit involves both process and technique. In terms of process, this is divided into several stages. As a minimum we suggest that the candidates are interviewed separately for their capability (competence and capacity) as well as their cultural fit factors (values, philosophy and alignment). If the role is crucial for the business, we also suggest employers consider conducting an additional role-play scenario, so that the candidate is assessed in a simulated team environment.

It should be emphasised that capability is subordinate to cultural fit. It’s not that capability isn’t important. Determining a candidate’s capability is a fundamental step in the screening process, but the overall hiring decision should be based on the capable candidate who is assessed as having the best alignment with your company’s culture.

What happens in situations where candidates successfully ‘game’ the interview process? It is possible for a candidate to give a convincing ‘performance’ during the interview stages, but it is much less likely that they will be able to sustain a performance in the long term. A mutual assessment period is a useful discretionary tool. Employers should only be prepared to offer permanent employment if they are convinced that the candidate is a good fit for their organisation. Employees also have the time to decide if the organisation is a good fit for them.

What factors should be evaluated when assessing cultural fit?

Determining cultural fit factors is about technique. Most organisations can describe the values and behaviours which are important to them and that they rate highly. This is less dependent on role specifics and more on a candidate’s alignment with your organisations purpose and philosophies. Explicitly stating these will help guide the recruiting process and assist you to formulate useful interview questions and selection criteria.

Our Tips

  • Make use of your organisation’s purpose and guiding philosophy
  • Help the candidates understand why you do what you do
  • Promote your point of difference
  • Make use of your values
  • State what the values mean to your organisation
  • Give examples of how you use them in your business
  • Use them as a reference for interview questions
  • Create interest and curiosity around your values
  • Ensure your values aren’t confused with business objectives
  • Use a Career Valuation Tool to establish what’s critically important to the candidate and what their intrinsic motivations are.

If you would like to know more about how we can assist your business in finding well aligned candidates using our method and unique measurement tools, then please get in touch.