Next time you reject someone for not bring a ‘good fit’, check your own subjectivity again.
In one of my MBA sessions, I have participants do a simulation of a hiring issue. They are asked to imagine that they worked for a mid-sized investment bank and had to choose one person out of the four final short-listed candidates - Sara, Andy, James, and Mathew. While all four characters were exceptionally good on a number of factors, the surprising part of the discussion was how participants raised questions about their ‘cultural fit’ with the company.
On prompting further, some raise the concern that Sara, being French, was not fluent in English and could not do small talk that was essential for client relationships. Andy had served in the military, had a Wharton MBA, was exploring multiple jobs options, and so this particular company did not seem to be his top choice. James had several years of experience and seemed too qualified for the job. He had a family and so probably he could not work late hours as the work culture demanded. Again, he was not a ‘good fit’ either. And finally, Mathew had been a successful entrepreneur and there could be commitment issues from his side while working at this firm.
It felt as if not being a ‘cultural fit’ is used as a garb under which all sorts of legitimate and illegitimate reasons for not liking a person were being put. And that is a serious risk. Most times, interviewers do not have a clear understanding of what fit is and how to measure it.
Culture is the binding force that puts everyone in an organization together. Why is it important? It is crucial that everyone works towards a united vision and strategy for the organization. If not, employees would soon get disconnected, leading to toxic environments and unproductive work behaviors. Therefore, it is imperative that companies first clearly articulate and define its values and culture. And only then it can be incorporated into the hiring process.
Determining fit is one of the most difficult aspects when interviewing people. Interviewers often fall into the trap of liking someone who fits their personal values or who is similar to them instead of matching them to the company’s values. Typically, we like others who have the same strengths as we have and who would be easy to get along with. Without clear measures, it can become a subjective process full of biases and personal preferences. For example, simple expressions of concern over working hours can be blown up into a big red flag against the candidate. Instead, it could have been just a passing remark.
The other issue that interviewers often get mistaken on is to feel that getting everyone who fits into the firm would mean that the company would be full of people who are just the same. Because of lack of proper definitions and measurements, teams and companies can end up having people who are similar in background, personalities, skills, and attitudes leading to virtually zero diversity. In fact, it should be the opposite. For example, in start-up settings, we need to have someone with visionary skills or, let’s say, a dreamer. At the same time, it is just as crucial to have someone more disciplined to convert ideas to actions when things get far too visionary. Having two people that are polar opposites is actually essential as long as they are working towards a shared goal and mission.
Cultural fit is about having shared core beliefs, values, and principles that the organization stands for. It is about shared passion for the organization's mission and objectives. And this can be achieved by very diverse employees. To assess fit, clear definitions of company values are required. The next step is to define how these are translated into specific behavioral terms such as in solving problems and taking decisions. For example, do we need people with a collaborative approach, with an entrepreneurial mindset, those who can work under strong hierarchies or those who can work in virtual teams? Do we even need a team-player when the work demands independent thought and action? Finally, have clear behavioral-based questions to assess candidate's work ethic and style.
Hiring professionals who fit well can go a long way. Most likely, they will prosper and be happy with the organization and bring their best work. So, next time you reject someone for not being a fit to the company, think again. Do you have a clear understanding of what ‘fit’ is? Do you have clear guidelines and processes to assess cultural fit? Are you covering up your own insecurities to reject this person? Are you being biased by your own subjectivity?
Dr. Kriti Jain