Everyone has a past job they distinctly remember. Whether it was a laissez-faire-style teenage summer job or a boring stint as one of many cubicle-bound office workers, its prevailing company culture likely significantly impacted your attitude.
If you’re a small business owner who wants to build a positive, strong company culture, you must ensure new hires have the attributes, skills, and personality to align with your ideal environment. Hiring someone who doesn’t fit the company culture is a recipe for costly bad hires and a disjointed workplace.
A company’s culture is intangible. However, it matters greatly, dictating everything from how people interact with each other to office banter style.
Cultural fit matches an organization’s values, priorities and work style with a job candidate’s characteristics. For example, if a new hire has a collaborative work style, but your organization’s culture is cutthroat and competitive, they won’t feel comfortable and will have difficulty succeeding. However, if your company prizes employee collaboration and open communication, they’ll likely thrive.
Cheryl Hyatt, co-founder of Hyatt-Fennell Executive Search, defines company culture as the organization’s “mission, values and approach.” According to Hyatt, hiring well means taking more than the job description into account.
“Job descriptions usually focus on the roles and responsibilities of an individual position by listing the necessary experience and skills needed for a job,” Hyatt explained. “However, each job is within the context of a unique organization. It’s not just what they do, but how and why they do it.”
For example, two companies can exist in the same industry and have many of the same goals but approach work differently, fueled by different motivations. It’s crucial to understand what makes your business successful, pinpoint the traits of people who do well there, and hire candidates whose work style and values align with the environment.
Your company culture should reflect the founders’ and management team’s priorities – factors they feel are crucial for the organization’s success. These priorities likely reflect the company’s mission statement.
For example, if leadership prioritizes an employee-centric company culture, you’d see an environment of worker autonomy and free-flowing communication. If an ethical company culture is important to them, everyone would abide by a specific code of ethics and conduct.
Here are four reasons why hiring for a cultural fit is crucial for an optimal workplace:
When everyone is on the same page, employees can work together in harmony. But when you have a new hire who “didn’t get the memo” about how things are done at your company, everyone ends up frustrated. This frustration can lead to workplace conflict.
“Hiring for mission and value alignment is arguably the most important piece of the puzzle to get right,” noted Greg Besner, founder of CultureIQ and SunFlow. “If someone isn’t inspired by your mission or on board with your values, then the employee won’t feel as incentivized to contribute. Further, other employees will know if a new colleague isn’t getting the culture or doesn’t care, and this can tear your company apart.”
A workplace where everyone feels comfortable, accepted and part of something they want to contribute to creates a culture of empowered employees with improved productivity. In particular, millennials – today’s largest workforce segment – want to make a difference with meaningful work for companies they believe in.
“People do not only want a job as a way to make a paycheck; they want a job as a way to make a difference,” Hyatt explained. Employers enjoy the benefits of employees who work hard for the company’s mission. Introducing a new hire who isn’t on board will throw off the balance.
When you hire someone who doesn’t fit in well with your company, they won’t succeed – even if they have all the requisite business skills. They will be unable to communicate effectively with co-workers and may even develop contentious relationships. At the very least, they’ll feel like an outsider. Unhappy workers are more likely to quit or get fired due to poor job performance.
“An individual who is a poor cultural fit will not have a positive impact on the team where they are placed and may not last long with your company, which is an unfortunate use of time and valuable resources,” Hyatt shared. Once this person leaves the position, your company must start the recruiting process again, wasting valuable time and money.
Even one person who doesn’t work well in an already established office culture can ruin the environment for everyone. It’s critical for small business owners and managers to pay attention to a candidate’s personality and cultural fit while evaluating their business talent.
“When the hiring process is effective, the candidates that are hired are more likely to be satisfied, motivated and committed,” Besner explained. “Successful recruits are motivated to exceed their goals, proactive about learning new skills and starting new projects, positive in their approach to work, creative in solving problems, and committed to developing their careers at the organization.”
When going through the hiring process with new candidates, you must research where they’ve been, their career skills, and what they can bring to your team from an operational standpoint.
But how do you properly assess a potential candidate’s cultural compatibility?
While you can’t assign a point value to a person’s cultural fit within your company, you can glean whether a candidate is likely to work well with your current group. Posing thoughtful interview questions and carefully listening to the answers provided is essential.
“When evaluating a candidate, looking at their experience and accomplishments is helpful, but the most important thing is to ask intentional interview questions and listen to their answers,” Hyatt advised. “The purpose of an interview is for a candidate and a company to get to know one another, which is why it’s the perfect place to evaluate cultural fit from both sides. Interviewers should ask questions about a candidate’s values, approaches and career aims. A candidate should learn more about a company’s legacy, mission and strategy.”
Assessing team members for a cultural fit goes beyond the interview process – it’s ongoing. Besner believes it’s through the “employee life cycle” of the onboarding process, training, and, eventually, daily office life that you gain a genuine understanding of someone’s place in the corporate culture and whether they’re a good fit.
“After an employee is hired, consider the rest of the employee life cycle … and look for ways to embed the company’s values throughout the employee life cycle,” Besner advised. “Every policy, process, and program is an opportunity to reiterate the mission and values.”
While keeping your company culture in mind when seeking a new hire is essential, you’re running a small business, not a social club. Work still must get done, and people must be professional.
While important, your company culture is not the be-all and end-all in hiring decisions. Hiring a successful candidate relies on several factors, including competency, skills, and experience. As a small business owner looking to hire the best candidate, you must ensure the person you hire can contribute immediately.
Hiring strictly for a cultural fit may be tempting, but your business depends on strong, competent employees who can get things done. They may get along well with the rest of your team and be delightful individuals, but if they can’t do the job, your bottom line will suffer.
“Cultural fit is one vantage point that employers must consider, a wide lens, but it’s not the only vantage point,” Hyatt cautioned. “A candidate doesn’t just need to fit a company; they need to fit a team and a role. An individual could be right on track with an organization’s vision and ethos and have none of the strengths or skills needed in a particular department or position.”
Jennifer Dublino contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.