What You Need to Know About Cultural Fit

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

What You Need to Know About Cultural Fit

To understand cultural fit, you must first understand the concept of company culture. Company culture are the beliefs, values, behaviours, and norms of a company. The mantra of ‘the customer is always right’, office happy hour on Fridays, and freedom for employees to express and share ideas, are all examples of beliefs and values that contribute to company culture.

Company culture is the reason that at some jobs, employees show up sharply at 8 wearing suits and ties, and in other people stroll in between 8 and 9 in jeans. Company culture encapsulates everything from the company’s values to how direct reports and managers communicate and interact with one another.

What Is Cultural Fit?

Cultural fit is the idea that an individual’s values, ideas, and beliefs should align with the company’s culture. It suggests that an employee will perform better and stay longer at a job where there’s a culture fit. In addition, cultural fit tries to determine what impact a candidate, if hired, will have on the employer’s organisational culture.

Cultural fit can be very useful when applied to recruiting, particularly when you examine whether or not a candidate aligns with the core values of your organisation. For example, if your organisation values innovation, kindness, and integrity looking for those qualities specifically in each candidate can help you find a cultural fit.

Dr. Elliot Jaques coined the term organisational culture in 1951 in his book The Changing Culture of a Factory. In the book, he examines a British manufacturing company and examined the corporate group behaviour of its employees. Then in the 1980s, academics started to research the idea of culture fit more closely.

Research in the Harvard Business Review [1] identified eight types of company cultures:

Caring: A caring work culture is defined as collaborative, welcoming, and supportive work environments where positive relationships are supported and encouraged. Working as a team is highly encouraged in this environment.

Purpose: Purpose-oriented work cultures focus on the greater good and how the job that they do aligns or contributes to that. These work environments focus heavily on the impact employees have on their communities.

Learning: Learning work cultures are characterised by creativity and innovation. Employees are encouraged to always be learning on the job and be open to new ideas, even at the risk of failure. These environments tend to be technology driven.

Enjoyment: Enjoyment work cultures are characterised by excitement and spontaneity of the employees who work there. What they like and what motivates them are priorities in this work culture. The job should be a source of contentment for its employees.

Results: A results culture prioritises outcomes and the accomplishments of goals. Meeting deadlines, targets, and metrics drives the environment and employees are rewarded based on these accomplishments.

Authority: An authority-driven workplace culture is characterised by strength, boldness, decisiveness, and competitiveness. These types of workplaces value winning and tend to be more individualistic.

Safety: A safety work culture is defined by caution, preparedness, and risk-consciousness. Unlike a learning workplace culture, this workplace would avoid unnecessary risks even if employees could learn from them.

Order: An order work culture is focused on respect, traditions, and norms. This workplace likely emphasises strict processes and procedures and leaves little room for out-of-the-box thinking.

If you speak to different people across an organisation, especially from different teams, they all might have slightly different interpretations of the employer’s work culture. Understanding the type of work culture that exists is important for hiring managers so that they can appropriately examine culture fit?

The Dangers of Hiring for Cultural Fit

Cultural fit can be subjective as experts often describe wanting to have a beer with someone being a barometer for cultural fit. Essentially, cultural fit tends to be reduced to likability, which can’t be measured and standardised when interviewing candidates. Sometimes there’s no particular reason why you like one person but not the next.

Research shows that hiring managers tend to look at candidates favourably [2] who make them feel good about themselves because of shared interests, experiences, and characteristics. If you’re not careful, with a clearly defined interviewing process, you can end up putting a bigger emphasis on fit (or likability) than on skills, talent, and qualifications. And placing too much of an emphasis on likability can introduce personal bias into the hiring process.

Some hiring managers fall into the trap of thinking it may be easier to teach a person the skills or talent they need to be successful in the role than to teach them the innate personality characteristics that will make them fit into the culture.

Recruiting for cultural fit, when applied incorrectly, can lead to bias. And its misuse has historically kept women and minorities out of certain workplaces. This is because cultural fit has typically translated into people who look, act, and think like the people doing the recruiting or hiring. Research has shown that organisations with diverse leadership and workforce, tend to outperform those without it, which is why getting utilising culture fit correctly is so important.

In addition to creating bias, the misuse of culture fit often leads to a homogenous work environment, which is bad for business. Companies need diversity of demographics and diversity of thought to thrive. Diversity of thought is how they get fresh ideas and perspectives when solving business problems. For example, a company with very enthusiastic, risk-taking employees would suffer without more temperate, conservative thinkers on the team.

On its face, hiring people that will fit into your company is a good thing. If the person understands the culture and is a good match, they’ll likely be happy, work well with their managers, and remain an employee. Conversely, if they don’t fit in with the culture, they’re likely to be disengaged. However, cultural fit should be more about how the candidate aligns with the values or priorities of the organisation, versus likability or similarity, so that diversity isn’t compromised.

HR professionals need to encourage a standardised interview process such as using rubrics to score applicants to ensure you’re applying to the same standards consistently. Decide upfront how much of the decision will be based on fit, as opposed to skills, talent, and experience, and stick to it for every candidate. Adopting a clear definition of culture fit for your company that emphasises alignment with your company’s core values, will allow you to reap the benefits of culture fit without sacrificing diversity [3].

Hiring For Cultural Add

Companies often hire people who will fit into the current culture and uphold the status quo, but what if your organisation could benefit from disruption? For example, if you have a more innovative corporate culture, maybe you'll benefit from a COO with a more cautious outlook to bring a different perspective to the job. Having a variety of perspectives creates balance and helps combat bias, which is important in business.

During the recruiting and hiring process, evaluating a candidate on what they can add to the work culture instead of how they fit is another way to approach the interview process. When you look for cultural add in a candidate your focus is on what they can contribute to the work environment that you don’t already have.

For example, imagine your office employs a lot of sociable people with really big personalities. If you interview a candidate whose personality is more introverted, employing a cultural fit strategy might cause you to think this person wouldn’t be a fit because she’s not like the people currently in your office.

However, using a cultural add strategy the employer would see the value in bringing in an employee with a different personality type. Maybe in addition to being introverted, she’s a good listener and analytical thinker. Hiring for cultural add allows you to create an environment where there is diversity of thought, new ideas thrive, and people can be creative and challenge each other.


In conclusion - whether you hire for cultural fit, cultural add, or a combination of both, organisational culture is an important part of company strategy [4]. A good corporate culture, if nurtured, can be an asset, so it's important to protect it and consider it in your recruitment efforts.

Qualee’s platform allows organisations to measurably improve their employee experience. Create a strong and nurturing company culture with Qualee and sign up for our FREE Starter Plan today.


[1] https://hbr.org/2018/01/the-leaders-guide-to-corporate-culture
[2] https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-dangers-of-hiring-for-cultural-fit-11569231000
[3] https://hbr.org/2019/09/hiring-for-culture-fit-doesnt-have-to-undermine-diversity#:~:text=Research%20shows%20that%20adopting%20this,are%20typically%20more%20at%20risk
[4] https://hbr.org/2018/01/the-leaders-guide-to-corporate-culture

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