Everyone talks about “culture fit.” They want to hire people who fit their organization’s culture. That sounds logical and seems to make perfect sense…but what the heck does it mean?
We all have a sense of what it means. Here at Select International, we pride ourselves on ourculture – a culture of:
A willingness to go above and beyond for our clients and colleagues
Taking great pride in our work
Certainly, when we look to add people to our team, we are looking for people who will thrive in our culture and who will contribute to it. But how do you operationalize this concept?
Many organizations task the talent acquisition team with hiring people with culture fit in mind. Perhaps they’ve been dealing with a wave of recent hires that clearly weren’t a good fit (it’s sometimes easier to define the culture you DON’T want). Perhaps new hires – and even incumbents – aren’t contributing to the sort of culture that leadership desires? In most cases though, leadership isn’t quite clear on what they have in mind. They’ve not really defined the desired culture or what they mean by fit. Is it:
People who fit the current culture?
People who fit a future state or aspirational culture?
Even organizations who think they do it well frequently can’t tell you why. I’d argue that it’s often sheer luck.
Here’s an Example
A colleague runs a large multi-disciplinary physician group. The group is exceptional in all measures, checking boxes in:
Retaining outstanding performers, especially physicians.
Clinical quality, financial performance, and patient satisfaction
So how did they build this wonderful team over the past 20 years? They have no idea!
Could they replicate it? Who knows? The CEO and the handful of physician leaders who started the group seem to be:
Dedicated to their patients and their colleagues
They’ve basically selected additional team members over the years who they felt where just like them – ideally suited for this organization’s unique situation. When they discovered that a new member was not a good fit, didn’t think the way they do, not dedicated to their mission, or otherwise not a pleasure to work with, they were quick to get rid of them.
What can we learn from how they built this team? Other than being good at quickly identifying and moving on from bad hires? Probably nothing, unless your organization is situated exactly as they are and facing their exact challenges! Perhaps they should contract themselves out as professional interviewers.
Obviously we can’t rely on this approach across other, larger organizations. Make no mistake, the concept of culture is not an exact science, but we can do better than leaving it to chance or trying to work from completely ambiguous concepts. We’ve worked with a few clients recently who’ve successfully and deliberately built a specific culture. It’s a multi-faceted endeavor. Hiring the right people is one important part of the equation.
What is the Definition of Organizational Culture?
I like to start with this commonly accepted definition by Edgar H. Schein, the organizational development psychologist who wrote the 1992 book, Organizational Culture and Leadership. According to Schein, organizational culture is:
"A pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems…that have worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems."
Geert Hofstede, the influential Dutch researcher in the field of organizational culture, defined it more simply as:
“The collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one organization from others."
In summary then, culture is the way the organization thinks and feels about its purpose and its function and how it goes about solving problems and fulfilling that function.
What BEHAVIORS Do You Value?
If we are going to think about how culture influences our work, and ultimately how it impacts our patients and drives outcomes, then we need to examine the behaviors that create that culture. Basically, if you talk about culture fit, you are talking about identifying people who have similar values, and more importantly, are likely to display the behaviors valued by the organization – sounds simple enough. Thinking of it this way, it becomes a bit less ambiguous:
Define how the organization thinks and feels about its purpose and function and how it goes about solving problems. The reality is that most organizations aspire to many similar cultural qualities. but there are subtle differences. For instance, most organizations want to be highly collaborative and service-oriented.
I can assure you that ten years ago, every hospital said that they cared about the patient experience, but most did NOT really value service-orientation that much. We paid lip service to patient-centered care and the patient experience but we didn’t REALLY value it. If they did, they would have defined specific behaviors and rewarded staff who displayed them and disciplined those who did not.
Today, many have embraced these concepts – they are valued by leadership and these behaviors are rewarded. Those who don’t display them are disciplined and moved out of the organization. Similarly, organizations that truly embrace lean concepts place more weight on innovation, openness to new ideas, being open to criticism, and being comfortable with vulnerability so employees feel secure when proposing new ideas.
One of my favorite examples is a large client of ours that truly values “fun.” They believe that employees need to enjoy their work and contribute to a work environment where fun is the norm rather than the exception. This concept is built into the structure of behaviors they value and reward. So, you define your culture through the specific behaviors you value and then demonstrate that value through actions.
Target these behaviors in your hiring process. Whether you are evaluating the resume, previous experience, references, interview responses, or behavioral assessment results, look for these behavioral attributes. In the interview, past performance is the best predictor of future performance. Get better at gleaning useful, predictive information from the interview, focusing on the behaviors you value. Is adaptability important to you? Dig into past situations where adaptability was required and probe for specific examples. Combine this with a solid behavioral assessment built for hiring that gets at the personality trait of adaptability and you now have more objective data to help identify a candidate who really is adaptable.
If you value fun, then look at specific personality traits in the assessment and probe for interview examples of how a nurse or therapist has tried to make the work environment fun for patients and colleagues in the past. If they can’t give specific examples, they’ve probably never done it!
So, What is Culture Fit?
There are other ways to look at it, I’m sure. The best organizations, though, have defined their culture by way of the BEHAVIORS they value and then target those behaviors during the hiring process. Do this over and over again, and you increase the odds that each hire fits that culture. It’s a cumulative effect. At the same time, you need to be reinforcing the behaviors you value day-in and day-out.
To learn more about why it can be particularly hard to drive culture change in healthcare, see our recent white paper, published in Becker’s Hospital Review: