You’re Just Not a Good Culture Fit

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By Eileen Habelow, Ph. D. 

The best companies protect their ‘culture’.  The culture of the company is important, especially as the company grows.  (Remember, “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”.)

Making great hires is critical for growth and every new hire added to the team is an opportunity to bring in new talent.  With every new hire there is an opportunity to reinforce your culture…or…to disrupt your culture. How do you know who will be a fit or not a fit?

But, what does ‘not a fit’ really mean?  As a hiring manager, you need to be very careful when you use such a phrase to inform a candidate she or he will not be hired.  You need DATA and EVIDENCE for your decision, or you are at risk for being considered biased.

How in the world can you ‘measure’ culture fit?  What can you use for data and evidence when deciding whether or not a candidate will be a ‘fit’, based on interviews and presentations?

Here’s the good news – not only is it possible, it is not that difficult.  All you need is your company’s core values and/or cultural norms, and you can increase the likelihood of making a great ‘cultural fit’ hire every time.

It is critical that when you talk about ‘culture fit’, you are all very clear what that does NOT mean.  Hiring for culture fit does NOT mean you want to hire only people like you and like everyone else who is at the company.  Fit has absolutely NOTHING to do with gender, race, age, or any other demographic descriptor.  Fit is about how someone approaches work in a company setting.  It is about working according to and in align with the core values that are defined for the company.

Here is a simple example.  There are going to be certain companies or departments that require employees to be able to work strictly independently and have high levels of personal expertise. On the other hand, some companies or departments require a lot of collaboration to be successful.  If you are interviewing candidates for these two companies, you will want to dig-in very specifically on how the candidates approach their work in terms of autonomy versus collaboration.

Let’s go with collaboration, as it is a very common core value at many companies… some simply mean collaborate with others inside the company; some mean collaborate cross-functionally, across department lines; and, other companies are focused on collaboration with colleagues inside the company AND outside the company.

Let’s say you want to make sure someone is collaborative in order to ‘fit’ well within your company.  How can you make an evidence-based decision that gives you a high level of confidence you are going to make a great hiring decision?

Behavioral Event Interview (BEI) questions are the most effective questions to get at predictable responses to scenarios. There is an art and a science to these questions in order to make the interview conversational and strategic.

Here are a few BEI questions my clients have created to get at the “collaborative” approach of candidates:

  • We work in a very complex scientific field. At some point, we all face a particularly difficult challenge in the lab.  Tell me about the last time you faced an especially difficult scientific decision you needed to make.  Share some details about the scenario and then tell me what actions you took.
  • You will be responsible for detailed submission plans in this role. Please tell me about the last time you had to create a submission plan.  Share some details around the situation and then tell me how you proceeded.

Notice a few things about these “questions”.  First, they aren’t really questions; but, they are very conversational.  Second, they are very specific to the job.  And, most importantly, by reading those questions, can you TELL we are evaluating collaboration per se?  A good BEI question has all three of these characteristics.

But, what in the world do you get out of those questions to ‘measure’ collaboration, and how do you know all interviewers will rate the person the same way?

The second step in a structured interview is constructing a clear definition of ‘what good looks like’ for each competency or value, and then sharing a rating scale with all interviewers.  See below for a sample table you could use to evaluate the candidate’s response and even assign a score.  As you listen to the candidate’s answer, you are listening for these characteristics in the response.

High ·       Proactively sought ideas from others

·       Played an active role in the solution

·       Has relationships with a network of internal and external resources

·       Willing to compromise

Expected ·       Worked with 2 or more people from different departments

·       Good listener

·       Used “We” statements more than “I” statements

Low ·       Defensive – “I figured it out all by myself”

·       “I” did this and “I” did that

When all who will interview the candidate use a structured approach, your candidate review meeting will be focused on evidence-based evaluation of competencies and values that are typically considered ‘too soft to measure’.

Now, when it comes time to communicate the decision to candidates, you can provide a more defensible and convincing reason for hiring or not hiring.  And, when you make the hiring decision, you can have a lot more confidence you got it right!

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