Hiring for Culture Fit Won’t Improve Your Culture

Hiring for Culture Fit Won’t Improve Your Culture

Organizational culture is critical to business outcomes and more than 80 percent of organizations hire specifically for culture fit. Seeing an opportunity here, tech startup Bunch wants to help companies bring more analytic rigor into how hiring managers assess job candidates for culture fit. Steve O’Hear recently profiled the startup at TechCrunch:

Specifically, by mapping company culture data against that provided by a job applicant, the idea, Bunch founder and CEO Darja Gutnick tells me, is to be able to highlight any potential cultural fit issues that can be teased out during a subsequent interview…

The way Bunch works is as follows: A company signs to the Saas and its teams take a 5-minute culture assessment, based on the O’Reilly model. Then, using the data provided, Bunch creates a culture profile for the company and each of its teams, mapped onto 6 key dimensions: Results-orientation, Adaptability, Collaborative, Detail-orientation, Principles and Customer-orientation. Every new applicant is tasked with taking an automated culture quiz that Bunch checks against the team and company profile.

Bunch’s push to put a quantitative lens on hiring for culture fit is well-intentioned. Taking a more “gut feel” approach to culture fit, as many managers currently do, can open up the organization to unconscious biases that threaten workforce diversity. There’s just one problem: Hiring for cultural fit is both more difficult and less effective than Bunch’s platform makes it look. Beyond the significant issue of bias, our research at CEB (now Gartner) shows that common strategies to change or strengthen culture by bringing in certain types of people don’t usually work.

Here are three main reasons why tools like Bunch’s are unlikely to produce the results organizations are looking for:

First, Bunch is measuring against a set of pre-defined cultural attributes that may or may not reflect the culture of the organization. This is necessary for the scalability of its product, but sets some hard boundaries on the tool’s usefulness for buyers. According to our research, there is no specific cultural attribute that is a consistent predictor of success for all organizations. Heads of HR would be better served assessing potential employees against attributes that they are confident support their strategic objectives rather than using a cookie-cutter model.

Second, all of the dimensions they’re measuring against are positive employee characteristics. Ultimately this falls into the same trap as any other screening tool: It can be gamed. Admittedly there may be some differences—a sales team might emphasize customer focus more than an administrative team, for example—but most organizations will want recruits to have high scores on all of these attributes, and most recruits will know that.

Third, this approach reinforces a people-focused approach to managing culture. We just finished a major research study on culture that shows such a strategy is unlikely to drive real improvement in an organization’s culture and performance. Instead, HR leaders are better served by looking at the systems and processes in place and working to make sure they support the culture (for example, making it easier for teams to communicate is a better way to emphasize collaboration than hiring managers who say they think collaboration is important). That way, the culture will be hard-wired into the organization’s operations rather than tied to individuals.

Organizations trying to inject culture into their hiring process should instead redirect their investments towards first truly understanding the culture they currently have and how processes are shaping their people. According to our recent culture strategy benchmarking survey, only 10 percent of organizations are confident that they understand their current culture. Without that confidence, you may well be trying to fit candidates into an entirely mistaken notion of your culture—and possibly making many other bad decisions in the name of culture.

Finally, if you want to improve your hiring, instead of hiring for culture fit, we recommend hiring for network fit. This approach takes a narrower definition of fit, focusing on how well the candidate matches up with their immediate colleagues and the work style of the people on their team. Research on network fit shows that it has more than double the impact on hire quality as compared to hiring for culture fit. So either way you cut it, hiring for culture fit won’t meaningfully improve your culture or business results.

Would you like to learn more about how to better understand your current culture as well as how to take action on what you discover? CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can attend one of our upcoming webinars on “Creating a Culture that Performs.” The debut webinar will be on October 3.