24 January 2019

How to successfully hire for culture fit

Assessing candidates’ cultural fit can actually help to improve team diversity, says Chris Platts. He explains how to use psychometric tests to reduce bias in decision-making, and improve retention rates


Chris Platts

Chris Platts


Assessing candidates’ cultural fit can actually help to improve team diversity, says Chris Platts. He explains how to use psychometric tests to reduce bias in decision-making, and improve retention rates

Humans are social animals. We like to live and work together; it’s part of our DNA. It’s also true that we have a better relationship with some people over others. This is especially true when it comes to working relationships. There’s a certain magic that happens when the right people get together, which goes beyond shared backgrounds, skills, beliefs or experiences. Finding the people who have this chemistry is the holy grail of recruitment. But how do you achieve this?

Today’s global workforce is more diverse than ever before, and there is an increasing awareness among organisations of the need to avoid bias and discrimination when recruiting. Hiring criteria should be relevant and objective. They should be based on how people work, not who people are, and be firmly geared to finding the best person for the job, no matter what their background is. However, our research shows that over 75% of organisations only use subjective ‘gut feel’ to measure culture fit. These companies are basing hiring decisions on a completely unscientific approach, leaving them dangerously open to selecting candidates based on likeability – not whether they will perform well in the role and in the team.

So, how can you measure culture fit more effectively in the workplace? First of all, you need to look at what makes a successful hire. To thrive in a role, a candidate needs to have the right skills, ability, attitude, and motivation. They must also feel comfortable working in the team in the company’s culture. We call these the ‘three Cs to successful hiring’: capability, commitment, and culture fit.

Culture fit in the workplace is not about personality. Personality expresses itself differently depending on the situation we find ourselves in. To measure psychometric traits in absolute terms is inaccurate as it doesn’t consider the external context. Despite what some psychologists will tell you, there are no personality types that are guaranteed to get on well with others. We should not aim to hire people of certain personality types because all the research suggests that the best teams are full of different personalities. The focus shouldn’t be reducing someone to a personality type, but understanding the cultural context in which that person will thrive at work.

Watch: how to improve your candidate experience

How someone likes to work is far more relevant, and determines how well they will perform in that role. For example, if someone has a preference to follow clear instructions at work, it doesn’t mean they couldn’t work in teams with high levels of ambiguity, but they’d prefer not to. If they prefer not to, the conversation about culture fit should be based around whether the way things are done are a barrier to them being happy and productive.

This is a crucial point about culture. Failing to fit with how the rest of the team works doesn’t mean being unable to perform the role: it means not performing the role to the best of their abilities. That’s the elusive attribute that organisations should attempt to measure in their recruitment process. The question a recruiter should always have in mind and find ways to test is: will I get the best of out of this candidate if they join this team?

To do this, an objective framework needs to be put in place. This involves defining the work preferences that are important in your organisation. These should include areas like decision making, implementation, performance, interaction and career progression. Categories for each organisation could be different as they must align to the specific working practices of the company. Every business is unique and will have its own parameters.

Just as every organisation is different, the teams within those businesses will have their own cultures and ways of working too. For example, a marketing team is likely to function in completely different way to a finance team. Therefore, it’s important to look at working styles and preferences at this level to get a true and accurate reflection of what you are looking for in a candidate. Also, there should be no right or wrong answers for people to decide between. Categories should be selected that have two positive alternatives. For example, ‘risk seeking’ versus ‘risk avoiding’. A simple questionnaire can then be created to measure the work preferences within each team on a scale between the two alternatives. Candidates to join the team can take the same questionnaire, so it is possible to get an objective measure of how well they will fit in with how the rest of the team works.

Looking at culture fit in this way gives employers a much greater understanding of how they operate, and what kind of candidates they are looking for. Because working style is not related to personality, background or demographics, this approach provides a fair assessment that can increase diversity and reduce bias. Taking the time to go through this process will not only help to recruit the right individual – who will feel at home in the organisation – but it should also have positive long-lasting effects. These include decreasing staff turnover and improving employee engagement, something that all organisations are striving to achieve.

After spending nearly a decade in recruitment, Chris was curious to discover that most companies still rely only on ‘gut feeling’ when making hiring decisions. Passionate about workplace equity, talent technology and company culture, he wanted to create an assessment tool that was quick and easy to use to help recruiters make smarter decisions. Before devoting time to ThriveMap, Chris founded TalentRocket, an employer branding platform which helped hundreds of purpose-driven organisations to promote their unique company culture.