A More Strategic Approach When Considering “Cultural Fit” In Executive Recruiting

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Almost all organizations understand the importance of cultural fit when recruiting senior leaders. Most also realize the top factor for failures in executive searches is due to issues around the cultural fit of the hired candidate. However, the definition of cultural fit is not well defined, and when someone refers to someone not fitting the culture, it can mean many different things. Generally, it means that the hired individual had the necessary competencies to be successful in the role but, in hindsight, the way they went about doing their job did not work effectively for the organization. This could mean several different things, depending on the expectations and needs of the organization. For example, organizations expecting a new leader to create necessary change do not want that leader to mirror the current organization but to create a new culture and new way of doing things. Cultural fit is more complex than simply finding an individual who is like and operates like the current organization as a whole. There is a more strategic approach to evaluating the “cultural fit” of potential hires that takes into consideration where the individual will be operating in the organization, what that part of the organization needs to move forward, and the most effective way to do things for the specific role the new hire will be filling.

Taking a more strategic and objective approach to cultural fit evaluation requires considering five key factors in reviewing candidates:

1) Develop a Way to Objectively Define Your Culture and Candidate Fit. 

Cultural fit is defined by the HOW organizations get things done and interact with each other. Each organization, like an individual, has a personality which defines preferences for how they operate. This, in turn, defines what they are good at and what they are not. Successful organizations typically evolve their culture over time based on what the organization needs to be good at to compete. At M&A, we have a proprietary process for defining organizations using 16 different organizational types and 16 individual types.  Using this type of tool provides a framework for objectively evaluating the cultural fit of candidates.

2) Don’t Focus on Fitting the Current Culture, but instead the Future Culture you want to create. 

While every organization has an existing culture, a new hire at the executive level is often expected to create positive change and move the culture in a particular direction. Hiring a leader that has a different profile and defines “HOW” the organization needs to operate moving forward is a great way to create necessary change. In these cases, it’s important to not look at matching the current culture, but, matching the desired future state. Again, it is important to use tools and have an objective way to define the future state.

3) Consider What Part of the Organization the candidate will operate.

There are typically different sub-cultures that evolve across organizations, particularly in different functions, and as you move lower in the organization. For example, the culture of a sales organization is typically quite different from the R&D organization. Understanding these sub-cultures is critical to defining candidate fit.

4) The Actual Role Is a Major Consideration in Fit.

We often see overall organizations with certain cultures, but the functional leadership role requires a different way of doing things. For example, a growing medical device company’s overall culture may be change-oriented and optimistic – highly flexible and can deal with ambiguity because that is the culture they need to grow. However, the manufacturing engineering leader will likely need to be more focused and detail-oriented because of the nature of their organization’s work. Often individuals that have particular titles and job roles with different companies will profile similarly from a cultural fit perspective because it is required to do things a certain way to succeed in that defined role.  

5) Factor in Adaptability/Intelligence for candidates that aren’t perfect fits.

Finally, candidates that are not perfect culture fits can often modify their behaviors as necessary to fit and potentially evolve the organization. Understanding adaptability can be gleaned from the diversity of roles and cultures they have operated in successfully during their career.

By considering all these factors during the recruiting process, you can greatly increase the likelihood of making the right hire.  Combining the five factors needs to be a bit of an art, but objectively measuring the five factors independently can be done and give significant insight to candidate fit. M&A Executive Search & Consulting has years of experience and related data helping clients strategically and objectively assess cultural fit and putting the right professional in place.  To take M&A Executive Search’s Organizational Culture Assessment, click here. The assessment only takes four minutes and is a great first step in making sure your organization makes the right hires moving forward.

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