Culture Fit – Is it Realistic?


“Culture Fit” is a buzz phrase you may have seen and is often heard around the water coolers in any executive search firm or HR/Recruiter meeting.  Generally defined as: “The ability of an employee to fit the core beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that make up an organization.”

Has the phrase run its course?  Is it realistic to hire someone who is a complete “Culture Fit”?   Do companies really have a single “Culture”?  The more I thought about this, the more I dug into how I interact with my clients – both the employer and the potential hire.

I’ve always approached my client engagements very holistically.  I never judged an employer solely based on a meeting with an HR manager or one employee – instead I spend quite a bit of time digging deep to understand the human dynamics and yes, culture of the company. Who are the players, what does the leadership look like, how happy are the employees?

On the flip side, I don’t judge a potential hire by their LinkedIn profile or a CV/Resume – it’s not telling.  Anyone can create a document filled with words, but the real truth comes out during a conversation involving some probing Q&A.  In their mind, what does a perfect boss look like?  What was the job you loved the most – tell me about it?  How about the one you hated?  Do you like to engage with employees or do you prefer to check out at 5pm?  Yes, all part of what culture they will fit in.

As I thought more about it, I realized that there are always exceptions to the Culture Fit theory and methodology of hiring.

Is there such a thing as a Single Culture?

Defining a company’s culture can be complex because realistically it can differ from location to location, department to department – if you get to a very granular level.  R&D is quite different than sales, which is quite different from HR, and very different from upper management.  But, most successful, thriving businesses who have low employee turnover DO have an overarching sense of culture for the business. Companies such as Zappos are crystal clear on their culture, attracting young energetic millennials who completely buy in to the over the top customer experience that Zappos promises.  That doesn’t mean that Zappos is filled with robots who are all alike, departments will vary but everyone is on the same page when it comes to the customer.

This goes back to why it’s so important for prospective employees and/or recruiters and executive search teams to look beyond the “single individual” and see the entire company as a whole, while understanding the parts that make up that whole.

The Warped Perception

Often companies will put out a rose-colored story depicting their culture on their website or on job posting sites.  This makes them look good in the interim, but the disconnect between what is real and what is portrayed will result in wrong hires and high turnover.  When a website shows smiling employees, yet the company’s real employee culture is more morgue-like than not, no one wins.

If given the opportunity I spend quite a bit of time just observing, listening, and interacting  with teams in different departments. I need to know the real story, not the perceived one.  Potential hires should have the same opportunity but often don’t because they are put through a hiring system that doesn’t allow for a peek behind the scenes.  The lack of transparency is a red flag that something is less than ideal.

In the end, part of what I do relies on gut instinct.  I’m able to read people and get to the core of what the hiring experience looks like for them.  So, is Culture Fit passé?  No.  I still feel it’s vitally important for a person to enjoy their career and connect with the core values of the company and the leadership.  When a company hires based on that, the majority of the team members will work well together.  Top leadership and hiring managers understand that there are micro-cultures within every company – the key to succeeding in the hiring game is placing the right people in the right jobs with the right leadership and being transparent as to what that experience is going to be.

Culture isn’t over rated, it just may be a bit misunderstood.