Hiring Based on Core Values Instead of ‘Cultural Fit’: The New Frontier of Recruiting


Jeff Weiner is talks about it at conferences.

Harvard Business Review online writes an article on it almost every year

Both brick & mortar and online retailers love selling books on the topic:

The Cultural Fit Factor

Hiring Geeks that Fit

WE. HIRE. FOR. CULTURAL. FIT. Those 5 words strung together are slowly becoming one of the most overused phrases in recruitment. Let’s be honest, as talented, proactive, forward-thinking Human Resources professionals, we’re getting tired of scanning the talent acquisition newsletters in our inboxes for the word ‘culture,’ receiving signed copies of cultural hiring books at HR conferences and listening to trendy CEOs at popular tech companies that wax poetic about how important it is to “hire for cultural fit” during the interview process. We are smart enough to know that if new hires don’t feel comfortable in their work  environment, it is going to difficult to keep them productive and engaged at our organizations for very long. But that doesn’t necessarily equate into hiring 14 people that fit the prototype of whomever is the current Flavor Employee of the Month. So, outside of KSA’s and candidate answers to behavioral-based interview questions, what other component should you use when evaluating the long-term fit of an interview candidate at your organization? Your company’s core values, of course!

The reason why many HR folks and progressive business leaders are getting rowdy about the overplayed idea of “hiring to cultural fit’ is because there is a cloudiness to how you determine one candidate’s predicted organizational fit over another’s. The reason Candidate A is chosen over Candidate B (an equally qualified candidate) may boil down to the hiring manager and interviewer connecting over a shared love of kayaking in the Columbia River Gorge. Kayaking! Not someone’s past performance that projects they would make a great manager or their ability to leverage their love of your company in all external interactions to become your #1 Employer Advocate… They just like to kayak in Oregon. My apologies for bluntness, but a kayak is a dumb thing to base a hiring decision on.

“The only way that culture in the workplace is effective is if there are sets of values that help the company achieve its strategy.” – Sigal Barsade (see related article here)

What seems to be a move that forward-thinking organizations are taking during the interview process is asking interview questions that qualify the relatability of the candidate’s past actions to organizational core values.  If one of your core values is tied to one’s ability to be highly collaborative, you need to be asking questions about the way each candidate has previously interacted with their coworkers/teams, direct supervisors and cross-functional stakeholders. If the interviewer’s answers lean towards putting them into the Individual Contributor category, aka someone that does not enjoy working on team-based projects, being a player-coach or has the capacity to teach others (and enjoy it), they do not share an important value of other employees within the organization and they will most likely have difficulty assimilating into the work environment, working productively with others and staying engaged. Attracting, retaining and engaging the right talent for your team plays a critical role in the success of achieving your strategic business objectives. Incidentally, it also costs a LOT of money to hire and fire people. By training your team to ask core values-driven questions during the interview process, you can better position your organization to hire people that are collectively working towards the same goals and strategies which ultimately lead to higher engagement, increased productivity and better financial performance. And who would turn down a candidate that will help you achieve greatness?

Are you hiring to culture or core values? I would love to hear your thoughts – leave me a comment below!


Shout out to indirect content contributors:

Google, YouTube, The HR Bartender, hbr.org, Knowledge @Wharton, & Inc.com.

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