Hiring for “Cultural Fit” – How Do You Make It Tangible?

Today’s post is a guest post from the folks at Halogen Software.

Why would I turn over this “valuable” real-estate to a vendor in the HR space when I don’t accept advertising on my blog? Because they actually read some posts from my blog and sent me a personal email suggesting several topics that they could contribute a post on within the areas I typically write about – without directly promoting their products. As someone who gets several non-personalized and non-related pitches per day, I found the interaction refreshing – and I’m always interested in reading/learning from other’s perspectives.

So give it up for Sean Conrad and Halogen Software sharing some tips on Hiring for Cultural Fit…

When it comes to hiring, it’s easy for recruiters, HR and hiring managers to focus on a candidate’s technical qualifications and skip right over the things that are harder to quantify – like cultural fit.

While corporate culture is somewhat intangible, it’s also a critical asset to your organization, one that needs to be carefully considered as part of the hiring process.

Why? Well, when you consider the costs of a poor hire – with estimates running as high as $300,000 to $500,000 (Dr. John Sullivan) – hiring for cultural fit has a huge impact. Of course every HR professional is looking to find and hire candidates who will excel at what you’ve hired them to do and who will mesh well with their organization’s way of doing things.

Whether it is a culture of innovation, collaboration, world class customer service, etc. hiring for cultural fit means your new hire is likely to be more motivated, interact more easily with other employees, and be happier on the job. All of which translates into a higher performing employee. For these reasons, how well you sustain your organization’s culture by hiring for fit directly impacts competitive advantage, innovation and other key business imperatives.

Last September, in Help Me With My Homework: What Are the Top Issues for Human Resources Today?, Jennifer discussed some of the priorities and focus areas for Human Resources and Human Capital professionals. Specifically: engagement, leadership development and retention. Companies that live their culture are high performing and better places to work, which of course directly impacts the three priorities just mentioned. So how do you attract and retain the right employees to reinforce and sustain your culture?

Make Corporate Culture Tangible

When an organization’s cultural values are clearly defined, they act as a beacon for attracting and retaining the right type of individual – and for building a high performance workforce. Values drive the behavior that is desired or expected of employees at each stage of the employee life cycle: hiring, compensation, orientation, promotion, discipline, training and succession planning and an effective Talent Management process explicitly supports these behaviors by translating values into specific competencies that can be assessed and rewarded at each stage. The key is to make these cultural values tangible and ensure they are considered during the hiring process. Sure, gut feel on a candidate’s fit is important, but anyone making hiring decisions in your organization needs something a little more concrete to go on.

For example, it’s important to consider behavioral competencies that describe how a job or task is to be performed, such as how the person takes initiative, how they communicate and work with others, and how they deal with conflicts or challenges. These behavioral competencies are necessary complements to technical competencies, such as knowledge of specific software programs, the ability to operate a type of machine or presentations skills. When behavioral and technical competencies are aligned, they work together to reinforce corporate culture and values.

How effective competency management helps

Building both behavioral and technical types of competencies into job descriptions and the complete talent management process enables those involved in the hiring process to assess the true measures of cultural fit. The end result is improved quality of hire scores because the competencies that make up the job description reinforce the values of the organization.

To take it one step further, those same competencies used in the creation of the job description should also be consistently reflected in ongoing processes – performance appraisals, multi-rater feedback reviews, development planning and talent assessments – to name a few.

By translating corporate values into specific competencies, corporate culture becomes something tangible by which to measure the effectiveness of all your talent management processes. It increases your organization’s ability to invest in your employees, directly impacts effective leadership development planning and increases employee engagement and retention.

Sean Conrad is a Certified Human Capital Strategist and Senior Product Analyst at Halogen Software, one of the leading providers of talent management software. For more of his insights on talent management, read his posts on the Halogen blog.

President & Chief Talent Strategist

Jennifer McClure is a Keynote Speaker, Talent Strategies Expert and Executive Coach who works with clients and companies in the areas of leadership development, communication and talent strategy. Jennifer McClure offers keynotes, workshops and training that inspire and empower business leaders to be more effective in their careers and as leaders of their organization’s most valuable resource – people.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

11 thoughts on “Hiring for “Cultural Fit” – How Do You Make It Tangible?

  1. Just what I love – an article that goes on and on and never gives any examples of what it is talking about.

    Sean, I invite slash dare you to improve your ideas – add some tangibility to them and come on the Recruiting Animal Show to discuss it.

    You can bring big sister @CincyRecruiter to protect you.

    • Hey Animal – sorry for the delayed response – just got back from Georgia and our user conference. Appreciate you chiming in. Maybe a response full of exaples would involve an entirely new post. Interestingly the closing keynote at our user conference last week – Lizz Pellet – did an awesome job of discussing how to make cultural fit more tangible. And a couple of months ago she also presented a webinar with one of our customers Todd Radke, the HR director at PDS – on how they use their culture and values to guide key aspects of talent management. A lot of this is done via competency management using our system, but it starts long before a tool can enable it. Maybe Lizz and Todd would be great guests for the show too. Happy to see if we can arrange it.

      Jennifer – thanks again for the opportunity to share this post with your readers.

  2. This is a fantastic article. Far too often, recruiters, hiring managers and even candidates themselves overlook the critical component that is cultural fit. I believe this is especially the case when hiring for startups because collaboration at an early growth stage is more important than ever. Many expansion stage technology startups that I help with recruiting at OpenView say that sometimes fit sometimes trumps qualifications. To quantify things, quite a few hiring managers have told me that they’d rather have an “7” in qualifications and a “10” in cultural fit than the other way around. Great post – keep them coming!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed Sean’s post Victor! I agree with your hiring managers (and you) – “culture-fit” trumps qualifications when someone meets the qualifications – and sometimes even when they don’t. I believe that people who fit well in their environment and are motivated to be successful in it can learn and contribute at higher rates over a longer period of time than those who aren’t a match.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  3. I’m sending this on to our management team. We are a small organization with a diverse group of people that all seem to mesh quite well. We have a very distinct culture and many new hires find it difficult to navigate their way through our unique ways of operating. This is just another example of why job descriptions need more than the required responsibilities. KSAO’s must be defined prior to the hiring process.

    • Well said Kristen! Thanks for forwarding this post on to your team and I hope it is helpful as you continue to add people to your team that match your company’s culture.

  4. Sean and Jennifer:

    Well done. Loved the post and I so agree, cultural fit trumps qualifications when qualifications are met.

    Sean, re: culture and competencies. What you just described is a DELIBERATE approach to culture. In other words, in your example, culture is created by aligning it to strategy and then defining behaviors. The beauty of this approach is you get what you ask for not a culture of chance…..

    Great conference last week, loved it!


    • Thanks for the great comment Cathy!

      I liked what you said at our conference – if your culture is not deliberate you get what you get – culture of chance indeed, that’s a great way to expalin it. Even if your company has a great culture now, it can go away tomorrow if leadership is not being deliberate about it.


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