The secret to low employee turnover is the same as the secret to the long-lasting relationship and can be summed up in one word: compatibility. It isn’t enough for an employee to be satisfied with their job - the company has to be happy with the employee as well.
Essentially, what company has to do before it hires someone is to determine if a certain individual is a good cultural fit.
What is a “Cultural fit”
A fit is where there is congruence between the norms and values of the organization and those of the person. - Adrian Furnham
The Big Book of Team Culture
The extreme example of bad cultural fit would be ambitious, money-hungry, result-oriented individual landing a job at a non-profit organization. Even though he sees this new position as nothing more than the stepping stone in his career, his approach could prove to be detrimental to day-to-day organization’s functioning.
His basic instincts to gain things and obliterate competition will be met with resistance from his new colleagues who are used to do things more “peacefully.” On the other hand, he will be frustrated with passiveness of the collective, viewing them as unambitious and undedicated.
If an organization doesn’t have any benefits from his skills, and he feels he cannot achieve his full potential there, this professional relationship is destined to fail.
However, most of the time, your newly appointed employee will hover in “the gray area” of organizational culture, trying to adapt to the new surroundings. Most will succeed, but there will be those who will fail.
How to know if an employee is a cultural fit
Unfortunately, to be 100% sure that an individual is not a cultural fit, you would have to allow them to spend some time at the company (usually 3 to 6 months). As laying off a newly appointed employee can cost up to three times their yearly salary, it would be best to weed out misfits during the recruitment process, as much as possible.
You can do this in two steps:
- Determine what your company culture is really like, and what characteristics candidate needs to have to fit in;
- Determine if a candidate has “what it takes” by using a specific set of questions;
If you do not know what you are looking for, you will never find it.
The cultural fit assessment starts by comprehensively determining your organization’s current culture. However, if the time is of the essence you can just find answers to the following set of questions:
- Do we work collaboratively, independently or do we use a combination of these approaches?
- Are our decisions consensus-driven or made authoritatively?
- Is our communication verbal or written, direct or indirect?
- Are our meetings serious or lighthearted, and how are they structured?
- Are most successful people in our company individual or team players? Are they proactive or reactive?
- Is our structure hierarchical or flat? Is authority centralized?
- Are there clear reporting structures or do we rely on the matrix?
- How do we reward people who do well, and what do we do with people that do not?
- How many hours a week do we expect people to work?
- Do we allow flexible working hours, or do we insist on a set schedule?
- Are we looking for someone who will stay with us for a longer or shorter period of time??
About Office Ambience
- Are we settled in open-space or closed-door offices?
- Is our dress code more or less formal?
- What do we do to relieve stress and have fun?
Answers to these questions will provide you with a blurry overview of your company’s culture, and a pattern your candidate should fit in. Only then you can proceed to interview potential employees to determine if they will be a good cultural fit in the workplace.
Determine your candidate's potential by asking them a series of specific questions. There are countless blog posts online which provide you with a set of questions a recruiter should ask any candidate. However, there are not many which will help you determine if the person sitting across of you is a good culture fit for your company.
According to Lou Adler, there are 5 dimensions you should pay attention to when determining if the candidate is a good cultural fit. Have at least one question for each of these aspects.
How the candidate handles rapid changes and sudden decision making? Fast growing and developing companies require people who can adapt, collaborate, and work with minimal supervision. On the other hand, companies with a strict set of rules expect their employees to pay close attention to detail and be on board with the complex and hierarchical decision-making process.
Tell us about the project that was running late and how you handled the delays? Did it breach the deadline? Who was responsible?
Degree of structure
How the candidate handles organizational chaos? Startups, for instance, are constantly developing and adapting to changing market conditions, while companies with longer lifespans (10 years and more) are structured on organizational and process levels. If an individual needs a clear decision-making process, they will have a tough time at agile companies that rely on chaos to make quick progress.
Can you describe the management style that will allow you to maximize your potential?
Will candidate get along with their future boss? While some people don’t mind who their manager is or what they are like, others have certain standards and won’t settle for less. If you misjudge your candidate and they do not “click” with their superiors, you can expect lower performance, potential conflicts, decreased employee satisfaction and higher turnover.
What must your superior never do?
Will candidate’s personality fit the job they have applied? The creative individual will feel trapped at the job that consists only of mundane tasks, while the employee who preferred a structured set of rules will struggle in a chaotic environment. When it comes to this aspect, you can filter out the misfits before the initial round - simply by clarifying job expectations in the job advert. Do not sugarcoat it, a few extra lines of honest text will repel bad picks and save you hours of CV read-throughs and interviews.
What do you expect from this position? (you should ask this question only if you get the sense that inadequate candidate somehow slipped through initial elimination round)
Will the candidate be able to perform their duties in given circumstances? This aspect applies to those potential employees who come from distinctly different organizational cultures. Even though their accomplishments at the previous company speak for themselves, they achieved those results under distinctly different circumstances. Essentially, the higher the adaptability, the better the hire.
Describe the work environment or culture in which you are most productive and happy. Which aspect of it do you consider essential?
One question to rule them all
If you do not want to spend time checking candidate’s fit one aspect at the time, you can just ask them one question and find out everything you need to know. After ten years of research, Lou Adler claims he has determined the ultimate cultural fit assessment test in the form of one question:
What single project or task would you consider the most significant accomplishment in your career so far?
According to Adler, answering this question should take form 15 to 20 minutes and should be propelled forward by additional questions which include:
- Can you give me a detailed overview of the accomplishment?
- Tell me about the company, your title, your position, your role, and the team involved.
- What were the actual results achieved?
- When did it take place and how long did the project take?
- Why were you chosen?
- What were the 3-4 biggest challenges you faced and how did you deal with them?
- Where did you go the extra mile or take the initiative?
- Walk me through the plan, how you managed to it, and if it was successful.
- Describe the environment and resources.
- Describe your manager’s style and whether you liked it or not.
- Describe the technical skills needed to accomplish the objective and how they were used.
- What are some of the biggest mistakes you made?
- Tell me about some aspects of some project you enjoyed.
- Aspects you didn’t especially care about and how you handled them.
- How you managed and influenced others, with lots of examples.
- How you were managed, coached, and influenced by others, with lots of examples.
- How you changed and grew as a person.
- What you would do differently if you could do it again.
- What type of formal recognition did you receive?
In just 20 minutes, the interviewer will know everything about a candidate’s ability to handle the job. The details this answer provides will tell you all you need to know about a person’s mindset, approach, people skills and expectations from a new job.
This question is the most effective if the candidate has chosen to speak about the project that is relatable to something they are expected to do in the new company.
All this being said, you should keep in mind that recruiting for cultural fit would only be utterly unwise. After all, every new employee is here for their particular set of skills. It is important to know that you will probably never find an absolute cultural fit and that each new employee will have to go through an adjustment period.