How to Measure Cultural Fit Up, Down, and Sideways

Here’s a link to a Forbes magazine article that was pushed to me last month (January 27, 2012) by LinkedIn Today, highlighting why 46% of all new hires fail. The point of the article was to introduce a “radical” new approach to selection based on Mark Murphy’s new book Hiring for Attitude. The key point of the book and the article is that lack of proper attitude, not skills, is the primary contributor to weak performance. The author is only partially right.

For one thing the idea proposed is far from radical. There have been many other books over the past 10-15 years including the Amazon best-sellers Hire With Your Head (for full disclosure — this is mine) and Top Grading that espouse similar themes. For another, and far more important reason, he mistook cause for effect.

I absolutely agree that a bad attitude is an extremely common hiring problem, but the bad attitude was caused by a lack of job fit, not the other way around. Bad fit is a multi-headed monster, including a bad fit with the manager, the team, the job itself, the company’s culture, the company’s growth rate, and the underlying business environment. There are probably a few more “lack of …” factors that could have been cited, but these represent the 80/20 rule and the primary cause of a bad attitude.

Consider this: even highly motivated people with a track record of success can develop bad attitudes and become disruptive workers when they don’t work well with their boss, when the job promised is different than the one taken, or the resources needed to do the job right are not provided. In most cases, the person got the bad attitude as a result of these underlying root cause issues. So to solve this problem make sure the person you hire fits the situation from top to bottom. Now that’s radical.

The graphic provides a means to visualize this job fit problem. (Here’s a link to a short video for a more detailed explanation.) The key point: for every hire, you need to ensure alignment top to bottom with the company, the job, the hiring manager, and the person’s ability, motivation, personality, and management needs. Due to rapidly changing business conditions getting this vertical alignment correct is nearly impossible, so you need to select people who also have the ability to move laterally in a variety of different environments. It’s this lack of lateral ability that cause the fit problem and results in a bad attitude. Here’s why:

Company Culture and Rate of Change: This factor is largely dependent on the company’s rate of growth and where it is on the corporate life cycle, somewhere between a resource poor startup to a rule-bound bureaucracy, and both moving toward the center. Obviously few people can thrive in all of these types of environments; that’s why the person has to be assessed on this environmental and cultural measure.

Article Continues Below

Job Type and Degree of Structure: Jobs have a pace of their own that often collides with the needs of the company’s culture and pace. For example, creative jobs tend to be loose and free flowing, whereas operations and accounting tend to be highly structured. Marketing, sales, and design positions tend to fall somewhere between these extremes. Irrespective of the person in the role, there’s often a natural conflict between the company pace and culture and the job type itself. Adding the wrong person into the fray complicates matters even further. For examples, accountants don’t do too well in startups and independent salespeople fight process and detailed reporting.

Manager Style and Personality: While we’re at it, let’s throw the hiring manager’s style into the job fit mix. The graph shows the manager style extremes from controlling to hands-off and the in-betweens: supervising, training, delegating, and coaching. The best managers have the ability to flex across most of the styles based on the circumstances and the type of people they’re managing. Unfortunately, most managers have a narrower range of ability and get frustrated and prickly when dealing with staff members and issues that conflict with their natural style. Most people would agree that the manager-new hire relationship is the primary cause of employee dissatisfaction. That’s why getting this part of the fit equation right is essential.

Subordinate Style and Personality: Fitting the employee to the job, the manager, and the company is no easy matter, but it’s made worse when generic competency models and behavioral interviewing are used without considering these fit issues. The fit with the hiring manager can be determined by finding out what types of managers the person has worked best with to see if the person can work equally well with all types of managers or if the range is narrower. The best hires are those who can work in all types of environments and with all styles of managers. Few meet this standard, but you should know ahead of time where lack of job fit will become unmanageable. (Watch the video to see a great example of how to address this.)

Since many people, me included, have been writing about this problem for years, including a Fortune cover story in the ’90s on the “bad attitude” problem, “radical” is too strong a term for the importance of assessing it. Essential is a better name for the need to access job and cultural fit before you hire the person. Regardless of what you call it, measuring fit across all job dimensions needs to part of any assessment process. Of course, don’t be surprised when ensuring that you directly assess job satisfaction and employee performance, that most of your bad attitude problems disappear. This is what always happens when you solve root causes rather than their effects. Some might call this concept radical. I call it commonsense.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


5 Comments on “How to Measure Cultural Fit Up, Down, and Sideways

  1. You are right on target Lou. This is what my company does. As you know, getting buy in from company leaders (where the alignment must begin) is the most difficult part of the Recruitment Process Optimization method.

  2. Thanks, Lou. Radical from “Radix” = “root”…
    It seems very commonsense to me: DON’T HIRE SOMEONE YOU DON’T LIKE!

    As far as “Manager Style and Personality”, I suggest a slight modification:

    9 Types of Bosses – from Work Is Hell, Matt Groening

    1. The Angry Behemoth
    aka The Ape, Mr Tantrum, Grumpy, The Grouch…
    Quote: “I don’t pay you to think. I pay you to cringe while I scream and rant.”

    2. The Robot from Planet X
    aka The Bureaucrat, The Watcher, The Living Dead, Zombie…
    Quote: “Your 10-minute break is over in 5 minutes”

    3. Mr Softy
    aka Whatsitsname, Squishy, The Pushover, Jellyfish
    Quote: “Gosh, I don’t know about that. I’ll just have to think about it for a while. I just…”

    4. The Slippeyr Eel
    aka The Manipulator, The Liar, The Sneak, The Genius
    Quote: “Just keep quiet and do you job and 12-24 months from now I think you’re due for a surprise – No promises.”

    5. The Great Unknown
    aka The Lurking Unknown, The Creeping unknown….

    6. The Spitting Cobra
    aka The Snapping Turtle, Poison Ivy…
    Quote: “Good Morning” “What an ugly shirt” “It figures” “Oh Cheer Up”

    7. The Horny Toad
    aka Sleazebucket, slimeball, scumbag..
    Quote: “Let’s forget about work and just relax” “How about a little drink?”

    8. Wonder Boss
    aka I don’t believe it, God, Perfection…
    Quote: “Good news everyone, because of a great year of fun and profits, I have hefty bonuses…”
    Warning: Could be the Slippery Eel in disguise.

    9. The Psychotic Boss – Monster from Hell”
    aka The Rampaging Beast-thing, Here Comes Trouble, Yessir Right Away Sir…
    Quote: “How dare you duck when I throw things at you!!”

    Happy Friday,


  3. You will always find individuals that thrive under one set of circumstances and whither in others. So, yes the attitude may be relative to the organization itself. Nevertheless, there are many instances where a new employee has slipped through the interview gauntlet and has become a bad apple. Many bad apples impact company culture negatively and so the bad attitude may have a serious impact. Check out Bob Sutton’s The No Asshole Rule.

    Still the point is well taken that certain working styles fit with some positions and not others, so cultural fit, not just personality fit, needs to be taken into account seriously during the hiring process.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *