Cultural fit is not always what it is made out to be

 Beware the Culture Fit by Apoorva Mathur

The culture debate in organizations continues to intrigue us. Research reports rank it as a key consideration, and meme factories work overtime to celebrate culture in their own way.

With culture emerges the question of “culture fit” in hiring and talent management discussions. Participants in these discussions tend to suggest that those who don’t have this fit are likely to fail in the organization.

I believe that there is a need for more openness in this discussion. In my experience with high-performing teams that I have been associated with, the best change leaders are those that challenge status-quo and produce a different momentum, rather than those that “fit in”.

Every organization needs these challengers. And they need them inside the organization. This is why I think so.

Challengers help raise Performance 

An underlying reason for not hiring someone because of lack of culture fit is that it would create conflict. In my view, this should be the reason to hire them! A certain level of conflict is good, even necessary, to improve things and change standards within the team. A lack of conflict is quite often the breeding ground of complacence.

Challengers boost Innovation

Innovation is the big theme in business because in most industries it’s the only way to raise margins. It has two parts:

  • New ideas
  • Making the new ideas commercially viable

Diversity of perspectives is needed for both parts! Talent leaders should be careful that they don’t end up rejecting candidates who can provide this – (only) because they don’t appear to be aligned with the organization’s prevailing social norms.

Challengers keep the organization dynamic

In this VUCA world, organizations can hardly afford to stand still. A culture that does not accept challenging influences, and remains the same over time, could eventually be bogged down by its lack of variety. The risk is that not only would this sameness affect business results (as outlined above), it would also reduce the organization’s attractiveness as an employer.

To create sustainable success, an organization’s culture must evolve and accept challenge and diversity. Next time we use lack of culture fit as a reason to not hire someone, we should be clear about what it is exactly that we mean. We should make sure that we do not use it as a euphemism for something else.