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Culture Fit: Five Common Misconceptions

Culture Fit

The concept of culture fit is receiving increasing press these days – good and bad, but, like any important idea, seldom indifferent. With so many definitions and differences of opinion, it can be difficult to chart a course through the available information to get a handle on what culture fit really means, how it should be interpreted, and how to avoid common misconceptions.

Good&Co has spent the last six 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 are fortunate to have amassed the largest psychometric and organizational culture database in the world. Our mission is to use this wealth of data to empower job seekers and employers alike, for the benefit of everyone in the workplace.

To make best use of the data, we first have to understand and define what culture fit really means. This article presents Good&Co’s definition of culture fit, based on our years of research and experience, as well as the quantitative findings from our dataset. In the process, we would 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.

As Furnham goes on to discuss, fit is not 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 – nonetheless, exactly what culture fit means in practice, and whether and how it can be measured, has been the subject of a great deal of discussion and debate. Below we present our answers to some of the most common questions and misconceptions about culture fit.

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

Culture fit is not a new idea – organizational psychologists were researching it as far back as the 1950s. The modern concept of person-organisation fit originated with the work of Argyris (Argyris, 1957), who argued for the benefit of an optimum level of congruence 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 profound 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 is explained by the quality of their fit to their organization. This is true even for personal values such as politics. Employees with good culture fit are a third again more productive, three times as creative in their work and significantly less likely to quit. Conversely, poor fit costs companies billions a year in lost productivity.

Misconception 3: “Culture fit defeats diversity.”

A common belief about culture fit is that it leads to configuring teams of clones, and hiring new clones to join them. In reality, quite the opposite! Fit is not about everyone thinking the same – it is about complementary skills and perspectives. In a recent white paper on the subject of team success, our psychometrics team reviewed the latest research on collective intelligence, reporting that cognitive diversity in a group 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, such that each person can confidently bring their unique contribution to the table.

Cohesiveness is not 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 fit and 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 and organizations who make up the culture. There is no single ‘right’ way to fit, and no right or wrong culture, or personality. An individual who struggles in one environment might thrive in another. This encapsulates the very essence of culture fit.

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 and nuances must be taken into account when assessing culture fit – so many that it would be impossible to make a thorough manual evaluation, candidate by candidate. This is why Good&Co has developed sophisticated algorithms to assess the many factors contributing to fit and afterwards constructing an overall recommendation for hiring based on the results.

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

Misconception 5: “Culture fit is about organizations.”

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

People join companies, but they leave teams – it is the day to day experience of working closely with a specific group of people which determines someone’s job satisfaction, and therefore their productivity and commitment. Culture fit is therefore more about teams, defined as small groups activated engaged in working together, than it is about organizations.

This is especially true for large organizations with multiple geographical locations and departments – our research shows that branches and functional departments can differ considerably in their culture, both from each other, and from the organization as a whole. Culture fit cannot be meaningfully assessed with reference to the organization 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 is vital to understand what it is, how to use it, and, just as importantly, what it isn’t, and how not to use it. 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 are 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, therefore, is this: we are at our best, and do our best, when individual values and company culture synergize to create a perfect team that is more than just the sum of its parts.

 

About the Author

Dr. Kerry Schofield is 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. Kerry currently lives in London with her partner Nic, a lot of books and a skull called Bob.

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