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Understanding culture fit

Culture fit is an often-misunderstood concept. 

Specifically, many wonder:

  • Are the words, “sorry, but you don’t fit our culture” merely a euphemism foro “we don’t like you”?
  • If we know a candidate’s past performance indicates they can do the job, why do we need to know who they are?
  • Can we ever really know if someone will fit within our company?

Not a fit?

To a disappointed job candidate, the words “you’re not a good fit for our company” may sound like a sorry excuse to reject them. However, leading, high-performance, high-profit companies emphasize integrating best-fit people into their culture for sound, well-documented reasons.

I see it all the time with my clients and colleagues.

Tien Wong, CEO of Opus8 Inc. and Founder/Host of CONNECTpreneur shared, “When someone is a good culture fit, they share the fundamental values of the company. The values could be anything from respect to integrity, to work ethic, to urgency, client goals, focus, etc. Somebody who is a culture fit already shares these values and integrates very easily.” In short, culture leads the connection. People who match a company’s culture find their footing in their new roles in a seamless way that those who do not cannot.

Tien added, “If you find someone who is a good fit, they will thrive and be happy. Thus, they benefit, so that natural fit becomes infectious. The clients can feel it, and the company benefits.”

He warns, “Conversely, if you hire someone who is a bad fit, they poison others. Dealing with the HR issues they invariably create—or the bad vibes they give clients—winds up costing the company quite a bit. Not worth it—even for top performers!”

According to Eddie Snyder, Chairman of Snyder Cohn, a 75-person firm which has repeatedly been lauded as one of the best 100 accounting firms to work for in the U.S., “We value our culture above all because it enables us to attract and retain the best professionals and therefore, also, to serve our clients optimally.”

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Stephanie Parson, CEO of Crowned Grace Incorporated, weighed culture fit with the same importance as expertise. “If you out-perform others in the role AND your image aligns with our corporate image, we invite you into our sphere of influence,” Parson says. Clarifying, she added: “Does your image fit our organizational image (culture)—do you ‘fit’ in our organization? Do you value what we value as an organization? If we believe that it is important to wear blue every day…do you wear green? Do you honor what we honor as an organization? Do your values align with our organizational values?”

Per Simon Sinek, author of the uber-popular Ted Talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action, “Your customers will never love a company until your people love it first.” And, “If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood, sweat, and tears.”

But how do we get beyond a candidate’s knowledge, skills, and experience? Can we ever really know ahead of time if someone will fit?

First, we do our due diligence…

Tien mused, “though hiring can be hit or miss, you can lower your risk by doing heavy due diligence on a candidate.” He recommends checking candidates’ LinkedIn profiles, formally and informally interviewing common connections, and checking “all of their social media accounts to get a feel for who they are and what they are all about.”

Then, he advises, dig deeper…

The KnowYourWHY process I am certified in helps pull teams together, in the leader’s direction.  Together, they can attract and retain ideal talent and ideal customers/clients. In time-efficient workshops, we reveal what makes leaders and their people tick. These workshops have a virtually immediate impact on leadership, team building, and employee engagement. With this clarity, we co-create game-changing, repeatable language that compels ideal customers, partners, and new talent to commit to—and advocate for—the organization’s success.

As a certified WHY Coach, trained to ‘get inside’—prospective and current— team members, I know we need to learn what makes them tick. What do I mean?

We start by finding what lights people up. By revealing each person’s why and aligning them with the jobs where they naturally fit. Digging into key questions such as: 

  • What is their core, emotional driver?
  • From which activities, actions and interactions do they derive the feeling of success?

This means discovering and placing people in jobs where can “live” their whys. When people align with their why, they thrive, they perform, they excel and they remain loyal. When aligned with the company’s why, they pull in your direction and advocate for your success.

However, to really predict if and how best candidates will integrate within the company, it’s a two-way street. If you know only the “hows” behind what you are doing, and not the why that unites your organization, you may not have enough of the picture to properly screen.

But let us suppose you are clear on your purpose and your why. Certainly, you can attract and inspire job candidates (and ideal customers, partners, and investors). That should help you find if people fit, right?

Not exactly.

Indeed, you may have everything you need, but if you want to be absolutely sure, you have to look even deeper into a person’s characteristics, communications styles and more. After all, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh once estimated bad hires had cost the company “well over $100 million.” Most businesses cannot afford such costly recruiting mistakes. So what to do?

Assess candidates’ fit with a well-defined job, with the culture, and with their potential co-workers.

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The Predictive Index (PI) is a 10-minute, science-based assessment that measures candidates’ drives, needs, and behaviors, and generates comprehensive, actionable insights and reports.

Having recently reviewed a mix of clients’, colleagues,’ and family members’ profiles, I was literally amazed—as were 100% of the participants—by the accuracy of the profiles and the robust predictions and advice. It was like PI had gotten inside each person!

My heartfelt advice? Use The Predictive Index.

Eddie Snyder, the Synder Cohn principal I referenced earlier, is a huge proponent of PI. To that end, he shared, “In the hiring and evaluation process we are major fans of PI, which all of us have taken and which we have been using for many years. This allows us to learn how our associates thrive best, naturally.”

In short, not only has PI helped Snyder Cohn bring in the right talent, but it has also helped them utilize the talent already on their team!

Tien agrees: “For sure, tools like The Predictive Index are critical. They help you gain insight into a candidate’s behavioral patterns, propensities, and likelihood of future job satisfaction. I’m a big fan.”

So, to sum up, if you want a high-performance team and want to avoid expensive hiring mistakes, culture fit should get the same seat at the HR/recruiting table as “skills” and “past performance.” To know what you’re looking for, make sure you, and your people, are clear on WHY you are doing everything you do. Once you are there—dig, dig, dig! Get to the root drivers and characteristics of your people and your potential talent with PI!


Thad is a senior marketing director at PI.

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