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Are culture and fit dead when it comes to recruitment strategies?

Lorraine Thomas

There have been recent arguments over the place of ‘culture and fit’ in HR and recruiting. It’s being argued that the necessity for prioritising cultural fit in recruitment strategy is passé, even redundant. However, I think we need to appreciate that assessment of that argument depends on each candidate as they present, and what the client is looking for. Contributor Lorraine Thomas, MD – Metzger Search & Selection.

What’s ringing the death knell for culture and fit?
Gig culture: the growing Millennial trend of the ‘gig’ working culture may have a lot to do with the alleged demise of cultural fit in the workplace.  A higher churn of employees, wanting shorter assignments, working off-site away from the interaction of the office environment may not seem like a workforce that wants to invest in the company culture. Furthermore, employers who engage “giggers” might not prioritise the compatibility between the gigging employee and their organisation.  In the quest for a more agile workforce, the deeper and more meaningful relationship between the employer and employees is lost. There’s no ‘investment’ on either side regarding compatibility.

 Diversity: the embracing of diversity in recruitment strategy is being perceived as the enemy of cultural fit.  It’s very nature is the antithesis of ‘homogenised’ recruitment practices where employers may pick from a particular profile of candidate to meet their needs. Instead of looking at diversity as the expansion of the talent pool, where fresh skills and innovative thinking would inject new life into the organisation, it is sometimes looked upon as the floodgates opening that hinders the access to ‘the right sort’ of candidate. This would be a group of more traditional candidate profiles, whose skillset, from education to experience, is the preferred and familiar choice for most employers.

 What is company culture?
What do we mean when we talk about company culture? To find out we need to understand what elements help to define the company beyond the profit and loss sheets.

Examining the outward facing brand is often my first step. This entails seeking out anything relevant through media channels and on the corporate website.  I also approach my own professional network; what are others saying about this organisation?  The opinions of partners, suppliers and clients give insight that a recruiter wouldn’t necessarily discover without asking those pertinent questions. So, when approaching the candidate on behalf of a hiring client, I can impart some of that intelligence we’ve gleaned to determine whether they would fit well into that organisation’s culture and energy.

Understanding the company’s people is a valuable addition to building a cultural profile.  What does a successful person in that business look like, for example?  Actually meeting an individual in the company who represents success and progression will help me manage and inform the expectation of the candidate. This is particularly vital when managing the process to fill a senior appointment.

How is the company’s physical manifestation of the brand? What would their offices say about them?  Style and upkeep reveal something of a brand’s emphasis and internal culture. A revealing way to test this is to visit a site that the company services, engage with its customers and other end-users. It’s one way of gauging whether its commitment to a good service is fulfilled on a practical level.

Staff demeanour is a key indicator as to whether the working environment is a positive one.  Unmotivated staff members are generally not a sign that the company culture is healthy.

 When making senior appointments, culture and fit can be the deal breaker
When it comes to making senior appointments, culture and fit are irreplaceable recruitment criteria to fulfil. Senior managers and directors must interact with so many different facets of a company, and its people, it’s therefore, essential that they have the capability to do so. They must be aligned with the company’s goals and committed to its growth and welfare of the employees.

Quite often, senior level appointments fail if the relationships and chemistry do not work between the new incumbent and the company. When recruiting candidates for a senior role, it’s always a good idea for them to meet other people in the company, especially other senior managers and directors with whom they may work one day.  This includes the C-suite officers and other key directors, including those in international offices.

We cannot omit the strength of personal ‘chemistry’ between individuals, even though this is business, but leaders must feel secure enough in their professional relationships, leading by example for their teams. Other key elements in the culture and fit equation to consider, are the candidate’s characteristics. For example:

  • Do they share the same values as the company in question?
  • Do they seem naturally adept at getting along with new colleagues?

What are the candidate’s motivations?  For example, some want to join an organisation with a strong Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) portfolio.  Therefore, consider investigating whether the recruiting company has strong CSR engagement.  For others, a substantial reward package may be a priority, or a desire to explore their professional diversity through experiences, sectors or geographical locations. Some candidates may want to work for a long- established company, while others a younger, emerging organisation, maybe even a non-profit.

Knowing when the fit isn’t right
There are times, when the candidate and recruiting company just don’t fit.  This may happen if the scope and brief of the job have been rewritten. A company may (as part of its natural evolution) have decided to alter the direction of the business. The knock-on effect is that certain roles may change along with the new profile. The person you thought you needed to recruit, becomes someone else, as it were. Therefore, the search must recommence within new parameters.

Sometimes the values and culture of both parties are misaligned. Good research into the company and the candidate tends to reveal this early on. However, if a company were to portray its culture in one way, but in practice it is different or inconsistent, then this could dissuade a candidate.

In the end, the relationship wins the day
When it comes to making senior appointments, culture and fit are not dead, but very much relevant.  It is a necessary skill set for the leaders and shapers of an organisation; the ones who look at the bigger picture and make the overreaching decisions that will affect the staff and success of the company.

Even as the gig culture grows in popularity, and workers seek more flexibility this is only achievable if there is steadfast leadership shaping the company’s future. Invested leaders provide the infrastructure and solid planning in which workers can deliver confidently, in a way that’s beneficial for their work life balance. One doesn’t work without the other, and a company will not survive without a collection of individuals who are committed and compatible, paving the way ahead.

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