We’ve all seen it happen, more than once. A new team member is hired. Everyone is enthused about her past accomplishments and skill set. She is enthusiastic about her goals and about team projects she’s assigned to. The new hire is optimistic about how she can  contribute.

Yet, within weeks, her enthusiasm wanes as it is clear she “doesn’t know how we do things around here.” Her supervisor receives feedback that she is “off doing her own thing” and doesn’t keep everyone informed. She expresses frustration that “I’ve never had such difficulty getting information from key players.” She knows her new job isn’t working as expected – so she quietly goes away after finding a job with another company.

HR begins the hiring process again. Team members indicate she “just didn’t fit well on our team.”

The impact of bad hires has been discussed for decades – two recent articles (in the NY Times small business blog and the Impact Hiring Solutions blog) examine the costs quite effectively. The list of causes of a bad hire is a long one, including a skill mis-match, personality conflicts, and the classic “poor culture fit.” Let’s look at that last item more closely.

Culture Fit

How do you describe your company culture to acquaintances, family, or friends? What characteristics do you emphasize? When I ask people to describe their organization’s culture, I hear a wide range of characteristics. They include:

  • Intense
  • Goal focused
  • Fun
  • High pressure
  • Cooperative
  • Competitive

Would it surprise you to learn that these descriptions were of ONE single organization? Depending upon their leader’s personality and bias(es), staff in this organization experience very different cultural characteristics.

For many organizations, their company culture is more implicit (implied though not plainly expressed)  than explicit (stated clearly and in detail, leaving no room for confusion or doubt). If the culture is not formally defined – and, therefore, implicit – the responsibility of day-to-day culture rests on individual leaders. As you can see, that makes for a wide-range of norms across that organization.

You can also appreciate how difficult it can be hiring a new player into such a wide ranging corporate culture.

Culture fit ON PURPOSE

Would you like to improve your “batting average” on new hires, and enjoy greater culture fit more frequently? Then you must be more intentional, more explicit, with your desired culture.

You can’t figure fit without a clearly defined culture. Only then are staff able to depend upon consistent culture norms and day-to-day ground rules that help them get their jobs done without frustration.

I coach senior leaders regularly about how to utilize our proven culture refinement process to create their desired culture. The three basic steps are:

  1. Define performance expectations for every person in the company. “Contribution plans” must include specific goals and standards expected.
  2. Define values expectations for every person in the company. “Contribution plans” must include specific behaviorally-defined values so citizenship expectations are clear.
  3. Hold all staff – senior leaders through front-line, hourly employees – accountable for exceeding performance and values standards. Every day.

How do you know your desired culture is actually “lived” day in and day out? ASK. Ask a lot. Ask a variety of staff across your organization what your company values are and how they’re being demonstrated. When you get 80% consistent answers that desired values & performance IS the norm, you know you’re on the right track.

What is your experience with culture fit? Share your insights in the comments section below.

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S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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