Blogs 2021 8 Shannon Libbert
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February 2021

How vs. What-Why Cultural Fit Matters!

Over the past several weeks (and often in the last 20+ years), the subject of cultural fit has been top of mind. There are various definitions of culture and cultural fit. Generally, it is believed that cultural fit is the degree to which an individual’s values and behaviors align with an organization’s values and overall culture. John Kotter, in a Forbes article, stated, “Culture consists of group norms of behavior and the underlying shared values that help keep those norms in place.”

Years ago, I worked in an organization where we used a slide during peer interview training that said:

Culture is what happens when no one is watching.

As long as I have been interviewing people (I’ve stopped counting how many years), I’ve known this simple fact. I’m still surprised when it goes wrong, and I want to do whatever possible to mitigate the risks of putting someone into an organization that is a mismatch on values or culture. When I was in HR, a leader would interview for technical skills and then pass the people they thought were competent along to the peers they would be working with. If the peers said “no-go,” it was a no. The turnover rate in that company was consistently in the single digits. We were not perfect; however, the few times a leader made a decision that was inconsistent with the process, invariably it crumbled. 

One of the organizations we serve has a leader who is retiring after a long successful career (the retiring leader has been there longer than some of her team has been alive). The challenge is not finding the right skills for that successor-there are many people who have the technical skill they require. The trick for them will be to find the right leadership attributes and cultural fit. 

We work for many healthcare clients and when my colleague often cautions that “we follow this process because we want to avoid ‘organ rejection,’” she does not mean actual transplant-related clinical searches (though the same would apply if we were). In the case of the incumbent following a highly revered retiree, the cultural fit is paramount. When innovation needs to happen – HOW those changes are led and communicated will become just as important as WHAT the actual changes are. 

In another case, we work with a company that is US-based but has global offices. They recently found themselves in need of a new senior operational leader and asked for our assistance. What happened to necessitate a search was not that the leader lacked the right background and experience-he simply did not play well with others. While he spoke the language and knew his “stuff,” the team he was working with did not respond to his leadership style AT ALL. He had a great pedigree, and the CEO told us that he was very capable and “on paper a superstar.” Why did it fall apart? It was not WHAT he did while he was there that damaged the culture and limited his future in the organization; it was HOW he communicated and interacted with others.  

How do we mitigate this gap between the WHAT and the HOW of cultural fit?

At Kingsley Gate Partners, we use our proprietary Synchronous Fit® process to mitigate the potential for a cultural misalignment. Our cloud-based, mobile-first framework complements the objectivity of an exclusive scientific profiling process with the deep human insight of expert search consultants. 

Embedded inside are two proprietary online tools – Athena™ and the Attribute Selector™ – that assess both the client and the candidate with a structured interview. Our sophisticated algorithm ensures an ideal match of desired skills and cultural leadership attributes to ensure a lasting fit between the hired candidate and the organization.

Please reach out if you would like to learn more about HOW to find WHAT talent you need for your organization!