Why Determining ‘Culture Fit’ Is So Important in the Hiring Process

Hiring a new employee means so much more than adding headcount to your next company meeting. Especially for small to mid-sized companies, every hire you make can change the dynamic of your organization — for better or for worse.

So, what makes a great hire? And, how do you identify them in the hiring process?

Is it based on their academic credentials, professional experiences and references, and technical skill set? Those certainly offer a great starting point.

However, checking the boxes on those items won’t help you uncover the intangibles that make for an exceptional employee — that “it” factor and cultural fit that will excite and inspire your team, and drive your organization forward.

As you evaluate your current hiring process, ask yourself, “Do we prioritize hiring to fit our company, or just the position?”

If you’re not sure (or if you’ve experienced a high turnover rate in the past), then maybe it’s time to revisit your approach to interviewing and the criteria you’re using to vet and select your employees.

Below, we offer insights into why finding a culture fit is so critical to growing your team and business. And we’ll offer tips on how you can evolve your current hiring process so you can find (and keep!) the best possible talent moving forward.

Why does ‘culture fit’ matter?

Your employees spend a substantial portion of their lives dedicated to work and building a career. If they don’t love the work they’re doing and the people they’re working with, that can quickly spiral into a testy work environment — which will soon lead to employee turnover.

As leaders and hiring managers, it’s important you take this into consideration and understand the impact hiring new employees can have on your existing team, their productivity, and the health and growth potential of your company.

If you’re looking to grow, it should be done with intention and your existing company culture in mind. Otherwise, you run the risk of making a bad hire.

Here are a few critical reasons why making culture fit a priority and finding the “right” hire are so important to your business.

1.) Making a new hire is a major investment

Hiring and onboarding a new employee is expensive. How expensive? Well, that cost varies by business, but there are a few factors that are universal.

The time investment

Once you’ve identified a hiring need, you’re probably looking to fill that position sooner than later. Until you are able to do so, this often means that other members of your team must own those responsibilities until you’ve got the new person in place.

Their time and happiness are important, but so is finding the right person to own that role. So, while the need to fill an open position can create pressure to make a quick hire, it’s worth the wait to ensure you’ve made the right hire.

Otherwise, you might not actually provide the relief and support your team needs.

Going through a formal hiring process is time-consuming. Team members spend hours reviewing applications and resumes, and coordinating and conducting interviews. This time compounds as you increase the number of people involved in the hiring process.

Post-hire, the team will also invest significant time in onboarding the new team member.

Depending on the company and role, onboarding can take weeks, if not months, to ensure the new hire is properly trained and acclimated. 

The financial investment

Beyond an employee’s compensation package, there are multitudes of other financial commitments associated with bringing on a new person. These could include, but are not limited to:

Travel for interviewing and onboarding
Relocation/moving expenses
Technology and equipment (e.g. laptop, monitor, mobile devices, key fob, another desk, and office supplies, etc.)
Signing bonus
Paying for certifications or other training
and Swag 

During onboarding, you’re also paying a salary without getting much work done in return.

Add it all together, and you’re talking about a huge investment. 

2.) A bad-fit hire decreases productivity/momentum for the team

Have you ever worked with someone who just didn’t jibe with the rest of the team? Maybe they didn’t have a team-first mentality, wouldn’t participate in company activities, or didn’t bring a positive attitude to their work.

The excitement of adding a new team member can quickly turn to frustration if a new employee is the one to slow everyone else down. 

Even if a new employee can complete their job functions effectively, a negative attitude, infighting, and other distractions can drag down the rest of the team.

If the team dynamic shifts toward a negative work environment, you could end up affecting the happiness of other team members, or worse — losing a valued team member entirely.

3.) A bad-fit hire can cause great team members to leave

A bad team dynamic is infectious, and it causes top-level performers to head to the exit.

Losing a valued team member is never easy. It creates workflow issues, and it can deeply affect the morale of your team.  

It’s also not cheap to lose a team member. On average, it costs 150% of a mid-level person’s salary to replace them. So when that $80,000 person leaves, it costs the company about $120,000 to bring in someone else, which puts you back in the hiring conundrum again. 

The longevity of your employee base shows stability to future applicants and clients. People want to be reassured that they can grow and evolve within your organization.

How to determine what ‘culture fit’ looks like at your company

Every company is different. Every culture is different. Culture fit will be unique to each situation. 

As a starting point, consider some of your exemplary employees. The ones everyone loves to work with. The ones always getting shouted out as great team players. What makes these workers so effective? 

(Note: it’s important to look at several of these all-stars so that you don’t just end trying to hire Molly clones.) 

Then, look at key company documents and values to define your company culture. Specifically, consider the purpose of your organization and how each employee can contribute to that larger vision.

It may also be a good exercise to ask the broader team and get their perspective. 

Consider posing the following questions to your current team:

What is the tone of our company voice?
What do we value as an organization?
What qualities do the best employees embody that help make our company an incredible place to work?
Describe a time when you felt excited or inspired working with a teammate. What about that experience helped foster those feelings?
Where do we want to be five years from now, and who do we need/want on the team that will enable us to get there?

Once you’ve collected thoughtful responses from your team, use their answers to help define the ideal team member and evolve your interview questions accordingly.

According to the Mercer Global Talent Trends 2023 Study, “Thriving employees are three times more likely to work for a company with a strong sense of purpose.” By bringing your mission, vision, purpose, and value forward, prospective employees can gain an understanding of what the company stands for.

Putting ‘culture fit’ into your hiring process

As a company leader or HR professional, you’re likely familiar with the standard application and interview process.

Most companies have an established list of role or position-based questions to help you vet the technical capabilities of a candidate, but those basics won’t enable you to determine whether or not an individual will be a culture fit.

Standard questions won’t help you determine if someone will mesh well with your existing team and customers, be receptive to feedback, exhibit emotional intelligence and professionalism, stick around for more than six months, or contribute to the larger mission and vision of the organization.

Start by reviewing your current list of interview questions, situational-based activities, and so forth. Evolve your hiring process with the following four tips:

State your values. Make clear to your candidates what’s expected of the team — then allow them to opt out. If your company values X, tell the applicants. Let them get a sense of the team they’d be joining.  

Expand your questions. Don’t just ask about competencies and work experience. Select questions that align with your company mission, vision, purpose, and value statements.

Get them out of “interview mode.” We all know what it’s like to interview for a job. The applicant doing everything they can to make a good impression. Sometimes that means they hide their true self. If you let your guard down, they’re likely to let their guard down as well. That’s when you get to know the real person. 
Bring the team in. If you’re between a few finalists, bring each one in for a 30-minute meet and greet with the team. Don’t think of this as an interview — more of a conversation. The team will bring back valuable insights.  

Invest in onboarding. Once someone’s been hired, the real work begins. The right onboarding process will ensure they’re properly trained, educated, and connected to the company from the onset. Making an incredible first impression will endear them to your organization.

Hiring new employees is an exciting time for any organization, and, identifying the best new team members is essential to future success.

Remember it’s not just about the position and title you’re looking to fill, but rather the people who will make that role successful and bring enormous value to your business, existing team, and customers.

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