If The Shoe Fits, Hire It

If The Shoe Fits, Hire It

Sep 20, 2021

By Damian Zikakis

Bill Ford driving a Chevy? Mike Tyson teaching an anger management class? And Drizella trying to thrust her large foot into Cinderella’s dainty, glass slipper? You don’t have to be an expert in human resources to realise these aren’t good fits.

One of the more memorable examples of corporate culture mismatches was the time that Ross Perot spent on the board of directors of General Motors. Less visible, yet more frequent, occurrences pervade the employment landscape. More often than not, however, both parties tolerate the condition.

So what’s the big deal? If employers and employees are willing to limp along with a situation akin to a size-ten foot in a size-six slipper, what does it really matter? It doesn’t – as long as you’re content with an organisation that performs like a hobbling stepsister rather than an Olympic sprinter.

It comes down to this: poor fit results in poor morale, decreased productivity, unsatisfied customers, and costly employee turnover. Organisations can preclude this, however, by hiring to ensure a cultural fit. Beginning with a clear understanding of the position being filled and working to secure cultural alignment can position your organisation for success.

Preserve the culture

In the work setting, lack of fit between an employee and an organisation can be described as culture clash. Culture encompasses the shared, taken-for-granted assumptions that a group has learned throughout its history – values held in common that extend beyond the framed mission statement hanging in the lobby. It includes the following:

  • Work style – the way work is done
  • Team orientation – hierarchical versus egalitarian
  • Management style – collaborative or commanding
  • Customer orientation – a nuisance as opposed to reason for being
  • Political style – the importance of what you know versus who you know
  • Attitudes toward things like learning and risk taking.

The underlying cause of this problem is a misguided hiring process supported by ineffective execution. Even the best-intentioned organisations – ones that focus on competencies and relevant behaviours, in addition to education and experience – frequently don?t assess the issue of cultural fit accurately. Failure to do this minimises the likelihood of arriving at a successful match.

Understand the position being filled

The seeds of the solution may be found in the roots of the problem. The hiring process should begin with a clear understanding of the position being filled. While this may seem painfully obvious, such an understanding is often only presumed. Consider the scientific perspective that an anthropologist might bring to the task of examining an employee’s role in an organisation:

  • How does the person in this position perform their job, alone or in groups?
  • What supervisory style should the person use, authoritarian or inspirational?
  • What form of group interaction does the position have, as a leader or follower?
  • What authority does this position have? What responsibility?
  • What are the consequences of success and failure in this organisation?

It’s important that the employer explicitly defines the answer to each of these questions before beginning the interview process; if you don?t know what you expect of a potential staff member, how can they?

Consider the cultural context

Thoughtful consideration to the cultural context of the position is essential to achieve a good fit. It may be easier to determine the requisite personal attributes of a successful candidate by enumerating those that would show evidence of a lack of fit. For example, do outspoken people not fit in? Unfortunately, the negative tends to attract more attention than the positive.

Assessing fit can and should be considered in each of the critical stages of the hiring process:

  • Sourcing and recruiting of potential candidates: Revealing the organisation’s culture as part of the sourcing and recruiting efforts allows potential candidates to self-select (in or out).
  • Preliminary evaluation of candidates: The preliminary evaluation of candidates is enhanced through intentional consideration of their fit with the more defining elements of an organisation?s culture – those elements that really stand out.
  • Final evaluation of qualified candidates: The final evaluation of candidates is frequently left to the "gut feeling" of potential supervisors and colleagues. While they may share with one another the desire for hiring a person who fits the organisation, they may not necessarily share an understanding of how that fit can best be determined. Evaluating fit with any consistency can be a daunting task.

Strive for objectivity

Many attributes of fit reside in the obscure realm of personality and feelings. As such, it comes as no surprise that clarity about such issues may be clouded by the emotional state of the candidate. For example, someone who is unemployed and anxious to land a job may be less objective about his or her own fit than someone who is being recruited from a successful employment situation. Hence objectivity and the ability to discern subtle variations in the psychological landscape are critical elements of the evaluation process. Psychological assessment services can address these issues by measuring a candidate’s intellectual ability, motivation, and values in a consistent and statistically valid way.

Once upon a time ....

While it was obvious to the Prince when he found the right fit, the rest of us continue to hold the pillow out for many ill-fitting, yet equally enthusiastic, feet. By starting out with a comprehensive evaluation of the position to be filled, and infusing objective consideration of the cultural fit throughout the hiring process, the chances of ending up with a good fit are greatly improved. Executive coaching has a range of systems for evaluating culture, relationships and objectives which will assist you in this process. An executive recruiter who understands coaching can provide complete executive search services to you. The goal is that the last line of your hiring story reads, "And they all lived happily ever after."

Damian Zikakis is an executive and career coach with more than 20 years of experience as a CPA and CFO