Does a cultural fit mean everyone in the business is the same?

Written by
Simon Wright

09 Jan 2017

09 Jan 2017 • by Simon Wright

What do your values actually mean?

Most organisations have a set of values, they define the company, its goals and the culture and aims of its people. It makes perfect sense, and it lets consumers, competitors and potential employees know about the company and what they stand for. These values are often visibly displayed at companies and shared amongst staff. They are often used as recruitment tools to find the right kind of people to work there. Nothing wrong with that in principle, but if the need for cultural fit is recruiting in one’s own image and reinforcing a staff base that is predominantly white, male and straight then you have an issue.

So how do you resolve this?


Who is the face of your people?

The first thing to look at when looking at the makeup of your staff, is how as a company are you perceived? What do your comms, social media and leaders say about what it's like to work  there. I've worked at many a company where this process has been deemed unnecessary “good and talented people should want to work here”. It is fine in principle to say that but often companies can be viewed as unobtainable, inflexible or simply just not for me, and this can be simply based on what people have read or what they see about the company. If you want a talented work force, sometimes you have to sell to them the benefit of working there. The brand name itself won't automatically get you good people, millennials in particularly, want creative freedom, flexibility and clear promotional paths, and they also want to see people like them that have made it in the business.

So look at your website, is everyone featured white and middle aged, do you have an open social media where you feel like you get an understanding of the people there, or is it corporate and formal? If you are speaking to groups of young people about apprenticeships, do you send people that don't connect with them, or speak to them like teachers or parents rather than on a one to one level? Openly embrace diversity, and talk about the good things that you do around this area, don't leave your BAME and LGBT and disability staff groups as some little secret with a brief note hidden amongst the pages on your website. Shout loud and proud about it. You might think that nobody notices but believe you me, when you see someone like you and you feel that a company will support you for being you, then you are more likely to apply, more likely to stay and more likely to celebrate this with other potential employee.

Your recruitment process may need a spruce...

Look at your recruitment process, is it something that has worked well for years, or is it in need of a refresh. How can you measure the objectivity of the process? Some companies add layers to the interview process, and a candidate can see four or five people from the team, this can work well but can also particularly when questions are focused around cultural fit and what the individual is like outside work result in prejudice.

Often we hear “they are so lovely,” or “she was a bit cold” as reasons to or not to hire. By thinking this we are discounting what they are saying, and basing a recruitment decision on who we perceive someone to be, rather than their potential to do a good job. Particularly as companies grow from small to medium sized companies the need for someone to be “one of the gang” can overrun the decision to hire someone to move the company forward.

The same can be said of people with lots of experience, managers can be threatened by this, and rather than asking the individual why they are taking a step across or down, can come to the conclusion that the individual would be bored in the role. In the recruitment process, are notes taken, and discussed, does the interview involve testing or presentations that can be objectively marked? 

Unconscious bias plays a part

Are you using the same people to interview and is there a hierarchy when it comes to those who interview. Now obviously the manager of the role needs to interview for their time,  is there excessiveness with board level getting involved, and multiple members of the team getting involved. It’s always helpful to have a range of people that can interview and can be trusted and trained to do so. It’s Important that those Interviewing aren't just stepping in with no experience but are trained, can ask the right questions, can probe and come up with objective reasoning to hire the right people.

Everyone has unconscious bias, you might not think you do but you do, and it is important to acknowledge that. I think it's also hugely important to train all of your staff on unconscious bias. We can interview people who remind us of great people in our lives and those who remind us of people we don't like and we bring that to the interview table without acknowledging that they aren't the people we are thinking about. Interviewers should challenge and question each other, and it's vital for people to take notes so that the panel are not just charmed by someone with no substance or discounting someone with a lot of great answers simply by their accent, their features, or who they are. Keep the notes factual and this will help with objectivity. Unconscious bias training is truly essential and really gets staff to think about their own prejudices and this can be really helpful in the interview situation.

Look to your people

Look at the people that are staying for years in your company and also look at the people who are leaving in less than a year, those that are off to new jobs quickly, those that are performance managed and those that are perceived as not fitting in. Are there patterns here, are those people that are seen as not being the cultural fit, the ones that aren't sticking around. Why is that?

Is there a culture of everyone conforming to a certain norm, are people's ideas and creativity not being acknowledged unless they are a certain way or are liked? From an HR perspective that is a quick way to lose talent and to remain with  stable but not going to set the world on fire staff. If you are invested in hiring the brightest and the best then remember that comes in many forms and a diverse team that challenges each other will ultimately be more creative and successful than a team of conformist “yes” people.