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Why the 'cultural fit' no longer fits at all

Build your perfect team based on science, not wishy-washy notions of ‘cultural fit’.

by Katrina Ganin
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Need to build your team to help your startup grow? Many founders aim for a good cultural fit as the final filter for talent acquisition decisions. The problem is, the term is misunderstood by many companies and can now cover subjective responses such as, ‘they like the same music as I do’. Really? That’s not a very, ahem, sound staffing strategy.  After all, no one wants a bad culture – that’s not good for any business.

Soft skills – the new powerhouse differentiator

Hiring staff is not for the faint-hearted. It’s tough to get past the usual interview song and dance to figure out whether the person in front of you has the goods your business needs.

Sure, the culture you’re trying to instill into your venture comes into play as well as ability and education. But increasingly, teams need soft skills such as emotional intelligence and conflict resolution to excel, particularly in a more digitized future.

Unfortunately, in the rush to recruit for cultural fit (whatever that means in the mind of the recruiter), soft skills, such as attitudes, are not given the weight they deserve. Plus, they can’t be identified accurately via standard interview processes and psychometric testing.  

All this means cultural fit remains a sort of flimsy default mode for recruitment that can actually harm your enterprise.

Cultural fit risk

If you rely exclusively on cultural fit (read emotional) hiring, ignoring soft skills, you finish up with impractical, poorly thought through hiring decisions that can hobble your growth.

Here’s what could go wrong:

  • Diversity blocker – when you hire for a particular type of personality you risk creating what the Harvard Business Review calls a personality silo where an individual’s skills are secondary to their personality fit.
     
  • Blindspots – hiring ‘mini-me’s’ can reinforce wrong assumptions (subconsciously) and prevent those assumptions from being tested and challenged. Then you end up with a myopic pack that’s blind to its own faults. Hmmm.
     
  • Team structural flaws – overly-homogenous teams can be fragile as they lack the means to handle disagreements in a professional, positive way (and grow from the experience).
     
  • Lost creativity – by overlooking the outlier, the misfit or the ‘dag’ you could be denying access to genius. Remember the origin of the term ‘computer nerd’ (hint: it wasn’t ironic at the time).
     
  • Costly bad hires – here’s the pointy end: missteps in talent acquisition can be costly. Time invested in new people can’t be recovered. When a person walks they can take a lot of intellectual capital out the door with them.
     
  • Clouded vision – the founder’s vision needs to stay clear and focused. Staff turnover can cloud the longer-term direction of the venture as founders are diverted by hiring mistakes.

Supercharge your hiring with science

It’s time to review the notion of cultural fit and start hiring for human, soft skills that are specific to the task. Soft skills can now be analyzed and scientifically measured as part of an overhauled recruitment process. Sounding good?

Also, consider that once you can determine the soft skills each individual offers (and your own bias) you can bring in the benefits of team diversity like increased creativity and better customer engagement. Importantly, these attributes boost your bottom line as diverse teams tend to be more productive and innovative giving you an edge over your competitors.

And thinking a bit longer-term, this knowledge can help you develop a more sophisticated and informed HR function. You can then plan for the training and development needs of the team to minimize that costly staff churn. Plus, you can build for the future as you can map the skills required for any particular point in your venture’s lifecycle – both now and down the track. This is especially important as the needs of startups change.

Now there’s a better, data-driven way to find the sought-after magical ingredient for world-class hiring. If this means you get a great team and don’t waste time on fixing bad hiring mistakes, that’s got to be a good thing, right?

Need some help to identify the soft skills your startup needs? Check us out.

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