Visual depicting cultural fitAs Executive Search Professionals, GDI Talent Acquisition Practice works with clients to find talented individuals who not only have the right skillset and background, but individuals who would also be a strong cultural fit with the client company. Research suggests that losing an employee can cost upwards to 75% of their annual salary. Further research indicates that much of this turnover is due to lack of cultural fit. Our professionals spend a large amount of time evaluating cultural fit in the interview and recruiting process to ensure that candidates stay with clients for many years.

To evaluate cultural fit with candidates, we must first understand our client company’s culture. Culture manifests itself in many ways in an organizational setting: language, decision making processes, symbols, daily work practices, values, mission statements, etc. At the beginning of any search engagement, we seek to understand three characteristics that will help us gain a better illustration of our client’s culture:

  1. Information on who this person will be working for. I’ve interviewed far too many people who have left good jobs because their work style was incompatible with their superior’s expectations. Sharing with the candidate the type of person he will be working for and his work style helps bring better clarity around expectations for the candidate. If they disliked working for a micromanager in the past, they don’t want to work for another one in the future. On the other hand, if a manager is too hands off, the candidate may feel that they will not receive the support they need to excel in the position.
  2. How decisions are made in the organization. Depending on the position being recruited for, decision making latitude is very important for incoming managers and executives. Does leadership expect that all decisions are passed through them before being made? Will this candidate require consensus on every major decision? Culture is influenced by those in decision-making and strategy formation positions. This information gives insight into the level of authority the candidate will have in the organization.
  3. Overall company culture. We seek to learn the company culture through its written mission statement, values, vision, goals, etc. Is this a very innovative culture? Is there a sense of urgency that permeates the work environment? We will not start a search engagement until one of our professionals has had a walkthrough of our client’s operations. This allows us to speak with individuals on the floor, to middle management, etc. Often, what is written on the walls is very different than what is being practiced.

This information allows our professionals to better understand the client culture. Organizational Culture is an abstract construct, and; therefore, to gain a deeper understanding of it, we must ask many of questions at all levels of the organization. Once an understanding of current company culture has been established (and perhaps where it will be in the future), here are four things that we do (and you can implement in your hiring practices) to evaluate cultural fit during the recruiting process:

  1. Behavioral interviews. Working with the client, we develop questions centered around real-life situations that we would expect this candidate to face daily. This will probably not be a new position; therefore, how did the prior person filling the role either succeed or struggle with various work situations? We use this knowledge to develop very specific behavioral questions. For example, we will ask the candidate what he would do first if they received a phone call from a customer about a late delivery.
  2. Third-party assessments. We always recommend to our clients to supplement their recruiting and interview practices with an outside assessment. We use and recommend Hogan Assessment Systems. A behavioral instrument like Hogan gives us better insight into expected behaviors and potential derailing behaviors when the individual is under stress. We use this information to evaluate if expected behaviors around teamwork, judgment, prudence, etc. will be a match with client culture.
  3. Interview in the candidate’s future work setting. This one is not always possible. If this is a Plant Manager position, we ask that our client provide a tour of the facility as part of the final interviewing process. Allow the candidate to ask questions in their natural work setting. Allow the candidate to point out areas for improvement. Pay attention to the candidate’s comfort level and gather feedback from others. Often overlooked, this is a valuable step in the recruiting process.
  4. Really listen to what the candidate is saying. Throughout the recruiting process, candidates will tell you what they liked and disliked about prior positions and about employers. When speaking to candidates, this lack of culture fit manifests itself in many subtle ways… listen for things like: “I just couldn’t see eye-to-eye with leadership,” or “I wasn’t challenged enough,” and “the company wanted status quo, and I wanted change.” Be sure to follow-up and probe for more details when you hear any of these comments.

I hope this information sheds some light on how to better understand company culture and how to evaluate cultural fit in the interview and hiring process. Organizational culture can be a difficult concept to grasp and put into words, please reach out to me with any questions. Also let us know in the comments how your company currently assesses cultural fit in the recruiting process.