Cultural Fit is a buzzword and very en vogue, so it seems. But what does cultural fit actually mean? “The candidate should just match well with our organisation.” But what does “match” mean, really? Is it your gut feeling that tells you if a candidate is a fit for you?
Probably not, and when it comes to personnel selection – hopefully not! Too many selection decisions are still made without any valid diagnostic basis, meaning without assessing the candidate’s competencies in a diagnostically sound way. So, we asked ourselves: what’s behind the vague notion of cultural fit? Is this concept really important and why? And if so, how can you reliably assess the cultural fit of the applicant? Here is the most important message right at the beginning of this article: Did you know, for example, that the major part of cultural fit depends on the competence profile of the job and the company?
FIT = Team + Organisation + Tasks
The term of “Fit” is divided in two parts: the fit between the organisation and person (“Person-Organisation Fit,” Kristof, 1996), and the fit between the job and person (person-job fit, Edwards, 1991).
Regarding organisation and person, the corporate values and goals are important parameters to consider. Is it more about innovation, hands-on mentality and flat hierarchies or is it rather a traditional family business with a strong hierarchy? None of those company types are negative or positive. In a “Start-up culture,” for example, you surely have a lot of flexibility, but also somehow chaotic structures and conditions.
When it comes to person-job fit, it is about the relation between knowledge and skills of the person on one side and what the job offers and requires on the other side. The environment of the job plays a rather minor role. Focus lies on the tasks associated with the job. Is it more of an activity which is characterised by much routine, or an activity in which the roles and responsibilities can change quickly and sometimes unexpectedly?
Although these two conceptions of “fit” are sometimes interrelated, they are different in conceptualisation: if I have the skills and knowledge that are necessary for coping with a task, I do not necessarily have to share the values of the organisation.
Sometimes, differences are more valuable than similarities
In addition, the cultural fit can be divided into the supplementary fit and the complementary fit. A supplementary fit is achieved when the character of an organisation or employee are similar and have very large overlap. Complementary fit, on the other hand, occurs when the character of an organisation and an employee are completing each other. Essentially, character of each fill in what is missing within one another.
“To match us” does not necessarily have to mean that everything is in common. It can also mean to add something which was not there before.
The supplementary fit is quite important for person-organisation fit. Applicants should have about the same goals and values as the organisation (Read how Deutsche Telekom ensures they select the candidates that match company values.)
The complementary fit, on the other hand, is important for the fit between the job and the person: to be the right person for the job, you often need to bring the skills that are not yet present within the organisation or team.
“Fit” often means to bring appropriate skills
As we already mentioned, the classic competency profile mostly determines what “has to fit”, especially to capture the person-job fit. You define what skills the candidate needs in order to achieve the highest possible fit with the requirements of the job.
For a position in sales, for example, which is marked by rapidly changing requirements, a candidate needs the “ability to adapt quickly and flexibly to unforeseen situations and challenges”.
However, if you have a position in a laboratory, which requires a consistently high level of accuracy, although the task is mainly characterised by a routine, a candidate needs to be able to “get things done very carefully and conscientiously”.
In the next part of our series about Cultural Fit, we are going practical: How do I reliably assess cultural fit in personnel selection? What interview questions should I ask in order to see if my candidate matches the job and the organisation?