How to Measure the Culture Fit of New Leaders

Have you ever hired a key leader who appeared to be a great fit for your team, only to find out too late that the fit wasn’t as good as it looked? It happens a lot. They check all of the boxes—the right background, experience, qualifications and education—but after several months they leave your organization, either voluntarily or because you ask them to leave.

What happened?

You had your team interview them, provided group interviews with their department, checked all of their references. You verified their accomplishments, education, degrees and certifications. But the new leader just didn’t fit in with your team and your organization.

Again, we ask: what happened?

At M&A Executive Search & Consulting, we see this scenario unfold quite a bit more often than you probably think. What happened is the newly hired leader didn’t fit your organization’s culture. They tried to make a big splash and acted too quickly without getting buy-in from the team and stakeholders, without gaining any credibility and before they were accepted as a member of the team. The new leader operated like a secret agent in an open environment. They didn’t fully communicate what they were doing or why they were doing it.

Simply put, they didn’t fit your culture of teamwork, and acted without gaining an understanding of your processes, procedures and the way decisions are made in your organization. Let’s take a look at how to approach retaining key employees by learning how to better evaluate them.

A Culture Fit Needs to Come First

When a newly hired leader doesn’t fit your work culture, they often become frustrated because they perceive people as blocking their attempts to make changes. On the flip side, you and your team become disappointed because the new executive isn’t meeting your expectations. There’s a stalemate—a culture clash. One side wants to make sweeping changes, while the other wants to be heard.

Often, it becomes obvious that the new executive hire isn’t going to fit in. It’s frustrating for both sides when you realize you’ve wasted a lot of time, money and resources on a hire that just isn’t going to work out. Moreover, it puts the organization and its efforts in jeopardy. Going back to the drawing board in search of new leadership often means pressing pause on other endeavors, and can blanket teams with a feeling of stagnancy.

Worst of all, damage to company culture can linger long after you’ve parted ways with an ill-fitting leader. Middle management and employees can feel wronged and jilted. Your tenured leaders might feel like they’re spinning their wheels. Word on the street might reflect poorly of your internal leadership, pushing away outside talent.

Needless to say, damaging company culture is a lot easier than building it up—and one culture clash can cause significant damage.

How to Foresee and Prevent a Culture Clash

The loss of time, money and trust on an executive hire that doesn’t work out can be substantial—many companies just can’t afford to make a mistake when hiring for a key leadership position. So how can you prevent this from happening at your company? The best way to keep this from happening is to make “culture fit” a high priority in your interviewing and hiring process.

The best way to do this is to, first and foremost, honestly examine and determine what your company culture is. It means taking stock of what’s important and using these factors as benchmarks for identifying leaders who mesh with your morals.

  • Are you a team-oriented company?
  • Are you a fast acting and results-oriented group?
  • Is your company employee-focused and customer-driven?
  • Is your team engineering-driven and scientific in your decision making?
  • Are you a group of independent contributors or team players who collaborate?

Introspective reflection before posting a C-suite vacancy is the first and most important step to filling that role with a true team player: someone who will fit in at a fundamental level.

Discovering the Roots of Your Culture

One of the most important considerations when assessing your company culture is determining exactly what that culture is. Too many companies assume their culture is one thing, when the reality might be far different. Is what you think defines your organization actually what defines it?

It’s okay to admit that your company culture is a work in progress. Some of the best organizations in the world are continually building toward an ideal culture. It’s essential to recognize what’s driving your organization to be the best it can be and use these core values in making the correct leadership hires.

For example, if you value diversity and collaborative input, you need to hire an empathetic leader who sees value in understanding others’ perspectives. If you want to be a data-forward, leading-edge organization, hire a C-suite leader who embraces technology and isn’t afraid to be an early adopter. Determine your values and look for executives who are prepared to embody them in the way they think, act and lead.

Vetting Candidates to Ensure a Great Fit

After you’ve determined your company culture, you need to formulate behavioral-based interview questions that align with the attributes, characteristics and personality traits you’re trying to find in your new leader. It helps to probe not only what they’ve accomplished, but how they accomplished their successes.

  • Do they give credit to their team or do they take all the credit themselves?
  • Did they get the all-important buy-in in the decision-making process?
  • Is your prospective hire a leader or a follower?
  • How do they resolve conflict?
  • How do they communicate to team, peers, supervisors and customers?

By asking the right questions and listening closely to the stories candidates share, you can learn more about how the personal culture of your candidates stacks up against the organizational culture you’re seeking to build or preserve. This is absolutely vital in the mission to retain key employees.

Working with Outside Experts Can Help

One of the biggest challenges many organizations have when hiring top-level executives is that they’re too close to the organization. They can’t see the forest from the trees when it comes to understanding how an outsider’s skills and unbiased views serve as an addition to the company. This is where an outside expert can bridge the gap—and indeed, where M&A Executive Global Search & Consulting frequently steps in.

M&A has developed a proprietary assessment tool that we use to assess your culture and to assess any candidate’s preferred culture to ensure a good fit for your team. As we said at the top of this article, you’d be surprised at how many companies hire leadership candidates who seem to check all the right boxes—only to find out that they’ve wasted too much time and money on a candidate who doesn’t fit their culture. We can help you avoid that scenario.

When the time comes to hire and retain key employees at the C-suite level, there’s little-to-no margin for error. It starts by assessing your values and using these core criteria to evaluate top talent, to determine who the best fit is from a culture standpoint.

Remember, there’s a world of talented leaders out there. You’re not looking for any leader; you’re looking for the one that’s perfect for your organization.