How to Hire Employees For a Cultural Fit

Eric Mochnacz
September 14, 2022

Although easily written off as an HR and recruiting buzzword, company culture has become an essential part of a company’s employer brand, thus becoming a critical part of your recruitment strategy.  Your company culture, informed by your core values, are how you expect your workforce to behave, which impacts how every individual on the team feels about reporting to work every day, how they talk about your company to others, and how others develop an opinion about your business.  Knowing how much the employee experience influences your company’s reputation, hiring for culture fit (we prefer to use culture add or core value alignment) is essential to develop a recruitment strategy that vets not just for technical skills, but also for culture alignment.  In this blog, we’ll review how you should build HR processes to support culture building, specifically focusing on hiring people who will add to your company culture.

What Does it Mean to Hire For a Cultural Fit?

When we talk about cultural fit, we aren’t advising you to hire people who act just like you.  When we refer to cultural fit, we are not speaking about cultural identity, but rather company culture.  Offering this clarification is important because an unskilled hiring manager may confuse the two, and end up engaging in unlawful hiring practices, which your company wants to avoid at all costs.  

Before you can understand how you hire people for cultural fit, you need to understand your company’s core values.  Core values are the why behind the actions and decisions your company makes.  They are the expectations of behavior you have for people at every level of the business.  If you and your employees are acting in a way that is aligned with your core values, your values and culture are identifiable by internal and external stakeholders.  Often created by leadership, but then cascaded down throughout the organization, core values are the standard by which we expect our people to act.  

For example, one of Red Clover’s core values is “Honest Counsel.”  It means we recognize our clients trust us with their livelihoods, and with that, their most sensitive and confidential business information. We take that responsibility seriously. We consider it a privilege to guide our clients and provide a strategic direction for their business. We strive to do our best for each other. If we feel we aren’t positioned to give a client our best, we tell them. We foster and earn our client’s trust.  Whenever we interact with our clients (and each other), honest counsel as a value is the guiding principle behind our conversations, advice, and guidance.  It’s indicative of our company culture.

The concept of honest counsel is abstract and more of a soft skill than a technical one.  The idea of core values and company culture are more subjective than objective.  How do you hire someone based on an abstract concept?  It is possible to hire someone for culture add by using objective, specific, job-based criteria through conducting a behavioral interview.  It’s easy to translate culture-based questions into behavioral format to help identify culturally aligned candidates.

The Process For Finding Culturally Fit Employees

The foundation of behavioral interviewing is the belief that the best predictor of future performance is past behavior.  So, a behavioral approach to interviewing is a tool that allows you to receive objective, job-related data from a candidate, through curated questions that invite a candidate to speak specifically to their past experiences.  Behavioral interviewing questions also help you avoid fraught legal issues, because a hiring manager or employer isn’t making decisions based on “their gut” or on subjective perceptions lacking objective, job related data support.

If we continue to use honest counsel as an example, there are two ways you can ask a question and they will yield very different answers.  One doesn’t tell you much about the candidate, whereas the other one gives you insight on if they can act in a way that supports your company culture. 

A hypothetical or philosophical question like “How would you give constructive feedback” often yields an answer where the candidate says what they think the interviewer wants to hear.  You don’t receive any specific examples of what they’ve done in the past. 

However, refining the question, and inviting the candidate to provide a specific example will allow you to better understand if they are a cultural fit.  Within the context of behavioral interviewing, you ask “Tell me about a time you had to deliver a difficult message to someone more senior than you.”  If the candidate is able to describe the situation, their role, the results, and the impact on the company, you now have objective data that informs you of their ability to provide honest counsel if you hire them.

Step 1: Clearly Identify Your Core Values

What are the values that guide your company in its decision making and actions?  These are traditionally described as a word or phrase that tells a story about your company.   It may take some time for you and your leadership team to clearly articulate your values because they are the standards to which you will hold current and new employees.  But once you commit, you communicate the values to the organization and work with your HR resource to integrate the values into your employee lifecycle processes and business processes as a whole.

Step 2: Develop a Recruitment Process

Once you have committed to your core values, your HR consulting partner develops a recruitment process focusing on technical skills assessment as well as culture fit.  They leverage their expertise in human resources to develop behavioral interview questions that allow you to determine core value alignment objectively and compliantly.  They also train your hiring managers and leaders on behavioral interview techniques, so that everyone in the organization feels confident in their ability to identify a candidate who will add to the company culture.

The Importance of Having Culturally Fit Employees

Having clearly articulated core values informing your company culture defines what good looks like in your organization. By encouraging culturally-aligned behavior and hiring for culture add, you are building and maintaining a team that strives to meet the standard you’ve set for acceptable behavior.  They act in a way that demonstrates to their colleagues and your customers that they have bought into the culture.  If you recognize those individuals, other people strive to act like them, because they see culturally-aligned behaviors are valued throughout the organization.  Simply put – they get it.  They are the standard bearers for company culture and build your culture just by showing up to work and doing their best.  

Company culture is a huge part of job seekers’ decision making process when choosing the next step on their career journey.  There’s a reason why candidates seek out a company’s Glassdoor reviews before choosing to work for a company.  How your employees feel about you as their employer and how you treat them is just as important as how much you pay them.  

On the other hand, if members of your team act in a way opposite from what is expected of the culture and core values, it has a direct, negative impact on your business.  It’s so easy for a CEO to say they want a strong company culture, but then reward and promote executive cabinet members who act in a way that is in direct conflict with core values.  Managers may hire people based on first impressions or their gut, not assessing culture fit, and that hire may end up being damaging to team morale.  There are so many wrong ways companies get culture wrong.  And one wrong hire can cause long-term, lasting damage to your company.

Need Help Finding Culturally Fit Employees For Your Business?

There are a lot of ways your business can fumble creating strong core values, building company culture, and integrating both into your employee lifecycle processes.  If you value building a culture-driven company, you want to do it correctly.  Why not trust HR experts who can help you articulate your company values, use them to start building culture, and create HR processes that integrate them both?  We’re here to help – reach out to get started.

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