How to assess cultural fit in the recruitment process

Tom Marsden, CEO of Saberr
- Leadership - Jul 15, 2016

The workplace is changing, and with it the nature of hiring. In decades past, companies would have a reasonable understanding of the skills they needed to hire for and the market supply of those skills, but the landscape looks quite different today.

Due to huge technological advancements, we’re seeing a fast pace of change in our businesses. As a result, it’s more difficult for them to know what skills they will need to recruit for in the future, and what the supply of those skills will look like. Ask any consultant about this and you are likely to hear these words: “digital transformation is not constrained by technology, it’s constrained by people”. According to McKinsey, 40 percent of jobs in developed economies involve a high degree of collaboration. With businesses striving for agility in their organisational design, it’s becoming increasingly important to hire people that will integrate into a fast paced team.

A clear problem when it comes to hiring is that we tend not to always assess the right areas. As Harvard Business Review research points out, “only a few companies excel at one or more aspects of the hiring process, and just a handful come anywhere close to a hiring ‘gold standard’.” While it’s always been straightforward to assess for competency, organisations have struggled to measure a candidate’s ‘cultural fit’.

The term ‘cultural fit’ can be problematic due to its lack of a clear definition. Simply put, it refers to how a candidate fits in at the job level (the traits required to do the job), team level (the shared values required to work well with team members), and organisational level (how well the candidate integrates with the company’s specified culture). Cultural fit is not simply a ‘nice-to-have’, it is essential for the success of employer and employee alike: research shows that employees who fit well with their job, team and organisation have greater job satisfaction, are more likely to remain in their organisation, and show superior job performance.

Avoid reinforcing your own biases

There is widespread misunderstanding among talent managers over how to assess cultural fit. Numerous studies highlight that, while it’s best to avoid lengthy assessment procedures with up to a dozen interviews, it’s very beneficial to have 4-5 sessions with a candidate to help both the organisation and the candidate understand each other well enough to make an informed decision.

Hiring shouldn’t involve taking short-cuts and if you rely on gut-driven instinct alone, you’re likely to reinforce your own, and your company’s, unconscious biases. And while cultural assessment should involve (and can’t avoid) an element of human judgement, this should be combined with insightful application of data to make it a more rigorous process.

Equally, a candidate’s fit shouldn’t be assessed solely through informal social occasions such as team lunches or during an interviewee’s casual tour of the office. Companies should have a formal culture interview in place, structured so that each candidate is assessed against the same common criteria. Structured interviews have been proven to be more predictive than unstructured interviews in producing desired outcomes. This means that any culture interview needs to start with clear and transparent definition of what the company’s culture is. Avoid using jargon or embellishments that might sound good: it’s always better to be honest about the culture they are joining.

How can data help?

Data and algorithm-based platforms designed for HR purposes help to bring additional proof points when assessing new hires. There are platforms on the market that can assess the compatibility of working relationships, bringing helpful insights into the formation of an organisation’s team-design.

Algorithms are sometimes criticised for reinforcing existing biases, however this couldn't be further from reality. If hiring mistakes are made or biases form, it’s easy to review what went wrong and make improvements, in contrast to 'gut feel' assessment. This is something hugely valuable as companies seek to hire for diversity with many opting for ‘blind interviews’. It’s equally important to understand and challenge what is driving the algorithm. If mistakes are made, it is easy to review what went wrong and make improvements. If we stick to relying on ‘gut feel’ when assessing cultural fit, we place greater risk on our hiring decisions and restrict our own ability to hire the best talent.

Today’s organisations face a great challenge of recruiting into a rapidly changing, agile workplace. HR and talent managers can’t afford to take short-cuts in the process, and the assessment of cultural fit needs to be given greater priority. Companies which combine human judgement with the smartest analytics tools will see the best results.

By Tom Marsden, CEO of Saberr

Read the July EURO 2016 issue of Business Review Europe magazine. 

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