Is “cultural fit” a myth?

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR

Recently, some have taken the position that cultural fit is a myth.

They’ve said: “Fit is a lie we tell ourselves because we don’t know how to weigh the one-two-punch of competency and character” and “Hiring for fit is often a cover for lazy, racist, sexist, bigoted, exclusionary, elitist, ageist and homophobic preferences in the work environment.”


Well, I do happen to believe that the old “he/she just wouldn’t fit in around here” as a reason for not hiring someone is sometimes spurred by discriminatory motives, having seen that in action, unfortunately.

But even so, that doesn’t mean “cultural fit” is nonsense. Cultural fit is very real indeed and a real concern when hiring.

Culture defined

“Culture” can best be described as “the way we do things around here.” While individual work cultures can be marvelously complex, the concept of culture isn’t.

So thinking about that brief but accurate definition of culture, it becomes clear fairly soon that it’s important to hire people who are both willing and able to do things “the way we do them around here.”

However, just because something IS, doesn’t mean it’s good

Note that I’m not arguing the way you do things is correct, efficient, and ethical. I’m merely pointing out that HOWEVER you do what you do, whomever you hire has to want to get onboard with it, or conflict is a surety.

That said, it’s certainly possible to hire someone who has an entirely different way of going about things—which could be great for your organization, I might add—but that decision needs to made mindfully for the sakes of all involved.

Regardless, the point stands. It’s nuts to suggest cultural fit (and by extension the very idea of workplace culture) is a myth.

Some cultural truths

So what can we say about workplace culture that’s true? Here goes:

  • Your company culture could be the biggest stumbling block to your company’s growth or the greatest source of its success.
  • Your actual culture may bear little to no resemblance to the culture you’ve created in your mind. For example, you may believe your “open door policy” is appreciated by all, when in fact your employees have learned the hard way to keep their opinions to themselves.
  • Companies that manage their cultures do better financially.
  • Managing culture is a lot of darn work and requires planning, commitment, and a near-unwavering focus on excellence, integrity, authenticity, humility, and accountability. That’s probably why 64% of employees believe their company culture is unhealthy.

The take away

As we head into 2015, resolve to think seriously about your company culture. Is it serving your customers, your shareholders, your employees, and you? How many workarounds are in place to get stuff done because your culture impedes productivity? Do your employees enjoy coming to work? Heck, do YOU enjoy coming to work?

If the answer to even one of these questions is “no,” resolve to make some changes. It won’t be easy, and you’ll need help, but the payoff is tangible—as tangible as your company culture, no matter what some are saying.

This whitepaper details one way to create a culture that makes sense to employees: Creating a Culture of Learning.


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