How Important Is “Culture Fit” When Making Hiring Decisions?

What does it take to make the right decision when hiring someone?
What does it take to make the right decision when hiring someone?
Image Credit: James 2

The hiring of workers to join our IT team is arguably one of the most important decisions that an IT manager will make. We’ll be potentially living with the results of these decisions for a very long time. What this means is that we don’t want to make a mistake – we only want to have the right people join our team. Just what makes someone the right person is a bit of a mystery: is it technical skills, is it past experience, or is it something else? More and more companies are starting to believe that it is something else.

Using Culture Fit To Make Hiring Decisions

When we are looking to use our IT manager skills hire a new employee, we all tend to do the same things that our IT manager training has taught us. First we’ll conduct phone interviews, perhaps we’ll then move to some form of a video interview, then we’ll invite candidates to come in to meet them and after this is all over, we’ll attempt to make a decision about who the best fit for our team is. The problem that we all have with this process is that it can still be too easy to “choose the wrong one”. We’d all like to do a better job at picking the right candidate.

Perhaps what has been missing from our hiring process is what is currently being referred to as “culture fit”. This can be a difficult thing to define because culture fit is very much like a tribal thing. What IT managers are trying to do is to find new ways that they can evaluate a candidate’s cultural suitability. The goal is to select the person who is going to fit in with their team from day one.

Exactly how to evaluate somebody’s cultural fit is a bit difficult. There are some firms that select current employees to act as so-called “cultural ambassadors”. Their job is to evaluate the finalists who have applied for jobs in other departments. Often times these employees are given veto power over candidates whom they believe just won’t fit in with the rest of the company. They may decide this even if the candidate has all of the other right skills for the job.

The Dangers Of Using Culture Fit

The idea of matching a job candidate to a positon by including their fit with the company’s culture sure seems like a good idea. I’m pretty sure that by now we’ve all seen examples where people have been hired who turned out to be a poor fit for both the job that they got and the company that they went to work for. However, it turns out that this culture fit stuff does come with some pretty serious limitations.

The problem with trying to determine a job candidate’s culture fit to a company is that it’s not very clear just exactly what that means. We all think that we know, but we probable could not write it down. What this means for us is that there is a real possibility that bias could start to creep into our evaluation of candidates. Just because I don’t like tall people, short people, fat people or skinny people, I may not like a candidate. Over time what can happen is that this additional hurdle that job candidates have to clear may result in the company becoming less diverse.

The legal folks at companies view using cultural fit as a hiring criterial as a dangerous thing to do. Facebook views it as being so dangerous that they simply don’t do it. Facebook discourages its managers from using cultural fit as a decision criteria and refers to it as being a “bias trap”. The fear is that cultural fit is so vague that it could end up allowing companies to exclude entire groups of people. A safer way to go is to limit your evaluation criterial to job related duties.

What All Of This Means For You

One of the most challenging parts of being an IT manager is trying to get the hiring process right. As we add more people to our team, we need to make sure that they have both the required technical talents as well the ability to get along with the rest of the team. Finding people who fit our team can be hard to do.

One technique that a number of companies are starting to use in order to make the right selection when they are considering candidates for a position is to determine if they have the right culture fit. This is hard to define, but effectively it means that the person will be able to start to participate in IT team building and contribute to the team starting on day one. There is no fixed way to measure someone’s culture fit so some companies have appointed culture ambassadors who are responsible for determining a candidate’s culture fit. IT managers need to be careful because it has been determined that trying to use culture fit as a part of a hiring process may introduce a bias that will exclude groups of people.

We all know that it is very important that we make the right decisions when we are adding members to our team. No matter if we create a formal culture fit evaluation process or if we keep it informal, this sure seems like a good thing to do. However, we need to be aware that it can open the door for our personal bias and so we need to be ever vigilant that we make unbiased decisions about who we permit to join our team.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that a culture fit evaluation should be applied at the start or at the end of the hiring process?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As an IT manager you are counting on your team to get tasks accomplished in part so that you’ll look good to the rest of the company. In order for your team to be successful, they are all going to have to be able to work together. This is going to require a different set of skills from the technical skills that they were hired for. The name for this set of relationship skills is “soft skills”. Do the members of your team have soft skills?