The concept of culture fit is receiving increasing press these days – good and bad, but like any big idea, rarely indifferent. With so many definitions and differences of opinion, it can be difficult to get a handle on what culture fit really means, how to interpret it.  Ahead of The Recruitment Conference in November Dr. Kerry Schofield, from our partners Good.co, shares her tips on how to avoid some common misconceptions.

Good&Co has spent years exploring, assessing, and developing a consistent model of culture fit, drawing on decades of cross-disciplinary academic and industrial research. With a user base of over three million, we’re fortunate to have amassed the largest psychometric and organizational culture database in the world. Our mission is to use this data to empower job seekers and employers alike, for the benefit of everyone in the workplace.

To best use the data, we first have to understand and define what culture fit really means. This article presents Good&Co’s definition, based on our years of research and experience, as well as the quantitative findings from our dataset. We’d also like to highlight some of the common myths and misconceptions about culture fit – but first, a simple definition from organizational psychology guru Adrian Furnham, from his book The Psychology of Behavior at Work:

[Culture] fit is where there is congruence between the norms and values of the

organization and those of the person.

Furnham goes on say, fit isn’t only about one person to one organization – it’s also about person-person fit, between an employee and his or her coworkers, team and manager. The definition seems fairly clear – exactly what culture fit means in practice, and whether and how it can be measured, has been the subject of much discussion and debate. Below we answer some of the most common questions and misconceptions.

Misconception 1: “Culture fit is a passing zeitgeist.”

Culture fit isn’t a new idea – organizational psychologists were researching it as far back as the 1950s. The modern concept of person-organization fit originated with Argyris (Argyris, 1957), who argued for the benefit of an optimum level of harmony between individual and organization. Models of culture fit have become more complex and sophisticated over the years – research in the 1990s identified several components of fit, including shared goals (Vancouver & Schmitt, 1991), shared values ( Boxx, Odom, & Dunn, 1991), and congruence between personality and workplace environment ( Christiansen, Villanova, & Mikulay, 1997).

Misconception 2: “Culture fit does not make much difference.”

Making a bad hire is extremely costly, both financially, and in its impact on morale and productivity. What’s more, there is a worldwide epidemic of employee disengagement – according to a poll by Gallup, only 13% of employees report being actively psychologically committed to their job.

Scientific research, nicely summarized in a 2003 review and meta-analysis by Kristof‐Brown and colleagues in the academic journal Personnel Psychology, shows that more than two thirds of the differences between people in job satisfaction, commitment, and performance are explained by the quality of their fit at their job. It’s true even for personal values such as politics. Employees with good culture fit are a third more productive, three times as creative in their work, and significantly less likely to quit. Poor fit costs companies billions each year in lost productivity.

Misconception 3: “Culture fit defeats diversity.”

A common belief about culture fit is that it leads to teams of clones, and hiring new clones to join them. In reality, it’s the opposite! Fit isn’t about everyone thinking the same – it’s about complementary skills and perspectives. In a recent white paper, our psychometrics team reviewed the latest research on collective intelligence, reporting that cognitive diversity is essential for fast, efficient problem solving (see e.g.  Reynolds & Lewis, 2017). A crucial element of culture fit is to ensure that teams have a collectively diverse range of thinking styles, perspectives, and soft skills, held together by mutual respect and trust, so each person can confidently bring their unique contribution to the table.

Cohesiveness isn’t the same as uniformity. In fact, too much similarity is a bad thing, and contributes to poor fit, stagnation, and groupthink leading to impaired productivity and performance. This highlights the difference between fitand similarity – as we have discovered at Good&Co, many hiring managers are actively looking to make hires which round out or shake up their existing team.

Misconception 4: “Culture fit is just a ‘gut feeling’ that cannot be measured.”

Culture fit is as complex as the individuals who make up the culture. There is no single ‘right’ way to fit, and no right or wrong culture, or personality. Someone struggling in one environment might thrive in another. This encapsulates the very essence of it all.

Finding the best match for your needs as an employee, or the best match to your team as a hiring manager, is not an all-or-nothing decision. Many factors must be taken into account when assessing culture fit – so many that it would be impossible to make a thorough manual evaluation. This is why Good&Co has developed sophisticated algorithms to assess the many factors and construct a recommendation for hiring based on the results.

A quantitative approach is much more comprehensive and fair than the abridged version used in conventional hiring methods. An interviewer, unable to process all the contributing factors for every candidate, may give undue attention to a specific trait or behavior, and base their decision on limited or biased information. On the other hand, an algorithm can evaluate all factors simultaneously and without discrimination.

Misconception 5: “Culture fit is about organizations.”

Generally, when people talk about culture fit, they refer to the fit between person and company. At Good&Co, our quantitative findings and experience, have taught us that while the macro-culture of the overall organization is important, what really matters are the micro-cultures: teams.

People join companies, but they leave teams – it’s the day to day experience that determines someone’s job satisfaction, productivity, and commitment. Culture fit is more about teams, small groups actively working together, than it is about organizations.

This is especially true for large companies with multiple locations and departments – our research shows that branches and functional departments can differ considerably in culture, from each other and from the organization as a whole. Culture fit cannot be meaningfully assessed with reference to the company alone.

Conclusions

To sum up, culture fit plays a critical role in maximizing job satisfaction, workplace happiness, productivity, and commitment. To employ the concept of culture fit effectively as a tool, it’s vital to understand what it is, how to use it, and just as importantly, what it isn’t. Cultural fit is important because it gives us a sense of engagement, of control, of choice. We’re not simply ‘working for the (wo)man’: we’re an independent, free-thinking individual choosing to make a valuable contribution to an organization which shares our goals and beliefs. Companies where we fit are more than just workplaces – they are our communities, our societies, our homes away from home.

Perhaps the simplest and purest definition of this complex concept is this: we’re at our best when our values and company culture synergize to create a team that’s more than just the sum of its parts.

 

Dr. Kerry Schofield heads up the UK component of Good.Co’s science team and is one of the key designers of the psychometric model, contributing more than a decade of research in experimental psychology and statistics. A chartered psychologist, consultant statistician, and researcher in the field of individual differences, Kerry graduated from the University of Oxford in 2003 with a degree in experimental psychology, followed by an MSc in research and statistics and a PhD in experimental psychology, which she completed in 2010.