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A week or so ago, I wrote a post about the CEO of Delta Air Lines and his interview techniques. In the comments, Charles said:
“cultural fit ” – I’m sorry; But I do NOT get that and never have.
I have always viewed it the way you are viewing this guy as some one who wants to hire “people who came from backgrounds just like the people who already work here.”
If your organization has a professional environment and the job candidate has the necessary skills/experience and comes across in the interview as professional then how can they not be a “cultural fit”? What other culture are hiring managers referring to?
I definitely can’t speak for Delta’s CEO. When I’m talking about “cultural fit,” though, I’m talking about the company culture, not the cultural background of the individuals who work there. I’ve moved around the country quite a bit, and I was an HR consultant for six years, so I’ve worked for a LOT of companies. Each had its own culture, and both the candidate and the company need to ensure up front that the candidate is going to be able to be successful in that culture. Here’s why:
- The culture can make you miserable. I wrote a while back about a company I’d joined even though I knew the culture was not a fit for me. Not long after I left there, I interviewed for a different job with a small company. I was in the final interview stages, and I was meeting with the big boss. I asked her to tell me about the office culture. She said, “Umm, yeah, I probably should warn you about that. We have a lot of single people in their 20s, and sometimes they sleep together. There’s a lot of relationship drama here. We usually drink beer in the conference room after work, and on Friday nights we all go barhopping together. We don’t care who you sleep with, but if you don’t participate in the social stuff, you are going to be an outcast.” Now, some people would dig that kind of thing. I’m not one of them. I hate bars, I hate beer, I hate office hookups, and if I’ve spent all day with my colleagues, the last thing I want to do is spend more time with them at night. This saved me a lot of grief, because being an outcast in a small office is not that much fun. Alison at Ask a Manager also had a question from a reader recently about being repulsed by the office culture (and really, the whole part about the spitting during meetings is totally worth the click). The wrong culture can really make you unhappy.
- The culture can make you ineffective. I worked for one company where the management style was very collaborative. People met to address issues, spoke reasonably (for the most part), came to consensus, and then went out and did stuff only after everyone agreed. This style has its good and bad points, but bottom line, that was the culture. At one point, one of the department heads left, and the guy who was hired to replace him was completely different. He swore a lot, he was loud sometimes, and he made decisions quickly with input only from a few people he trusted. He had some great ideas, and he was brought in to make changes that really needed to be made…but he never got to make them, because his style was so completely different than that of the rest of the company. Organizations tend to attract and retain people who like working there; that’s why cultures are so hard to change. People there liked the collaborative, quiet, everyone-agrees culture, and they worked there because they wanted to be in a place where that was the norm. The bucket of cold water they received in the form of this completely different executive was too much, and they resisted him to the point where he finally gave up and left. In fact, he left for a company that was much more receptive to his style, and he was far more successful there.
- The culture is probably not going to change anytime soon. Ask anyone who has been through a merger of two big companies, and they’ll probably tell you about some painful experiences. Even when there’s a huge push to adapt people to a new culture, and there’s lots of buy-in, and all of the executives really want to make it happen…well, culture is strong. People don’t change because you tell them to; in fact, if anything, they often resist just because they don’t like change, period, even when they know it needs to be done. Earlier in my career, I thought part of my role in HR was to change the culture of the companies I worked for to be more like what I thought it should be. I’m WAY over that. You can’t really force another person to change, and you certainly can’t change a whole group of them without a great deal of work and a very long-term commitment. If that’s what you’re hired to do, and you have support from all levels of the organization to do it—great. Good luck. That’s rare though, and in my experience, it’s best to choose employers whose culture is within the range of those in which you can be happy and productive. That’s best for you AND the company.