Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hiring for Cultural Fit

Many companies hire for cultural fit.  They want to find employees who share their organization's values, and whose behavior and mindset align with the way that decisions are made and work gets done in their firm.  A recent Knowledge@Wharton article argues that companies need to be careful, however, when considering a candidate's cultural fit.

Cultural fit clearly plays a key role in organizational effectiveness. Consider the study by Nancy Rothbard, Gina Dokko, and Steffanie Wilk, published in Organizational Science in 2009.   They found that companies must cope with a key downside when hiring people with relevant experience.  Specifically, they noted that many experienced employees come with "cognitive baggage" that can inhibit them from being effective at their new firm.  However, a candidate's flexibility and cultural fit tended to offset the negative impact of cognitive baggage to some extent.

What's the downside of hiring for cultural fit?  Hidden biases may creep into your decision-making process. You may simply look for people who are similar to you in many ways, i.e. same educational background, socio-economic status, hobbies and interests, etc.  In other words, you focus on fit with your personal interests and values, rather than organizational norms and attributes.  Kellogg Professor Lauren Rivera recently wrote an article for the New York Times about how we might bond with candidates over things that don't really matter when it comes to organizational effectiveness: “Bonding over rowing college crew, getting certified in scuba, sipping single-malt Scotches in the Highlands or dining at Michelin-starred restaurants was evidence of fit; sharing a love of teamwork or a passion for pleasing clients was not.”  In other words, people tend to make snap judgments based on who they might like to be friends with rather than who could collaborate with others to drive organizational performance.  

Consider your interviewing process for a moment.   What types of questions are you asking?  How are you assessing candidates?   Is the emphasis on fit with the interviewer's interests and values, or are you truly evaluating cultural fit?  How might you alter your hiring process to emphasize the latter and downplay the former?  

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