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You Can't Test for Cultural Fit


“But Rob, you can't test candidates for culture fit!” is something I hear all the time. I see myriad articles saying the same. The advice is instead, “trial them” as if people were a product you could try before you buy with no moral dilemma and (ironically) an adverse effect on the culture, or “ask trick questions” as if people weren’t confused enough about whether to be “real” or “corporate” or both (yes it’s an oxymoron) in an interview.

It’s a myth I want to quash.

So how do we go about testing for Culture Fit. Well this is where we need to reverse engineer everything. In all the consulting I have done over the last 5 years for 33Talent I have yet to find a client where the problem was actually the “testing”. Sure no-one could test but that was because testing is the end point but being treated as the beginning. You can’t test against what you haven’t defined or collected data on.

So as with all things one has to test, you need to know a) what you’re testing for, b) what your norm or placebo is, c) what bad and good look like as well as have serious data to back everything up.

Ok, so how do I go about getting all that? Well here are 5 action steps to take right now to get you there:

Step 1: Define your Culture. What it is now and what you would like it to be. Once you have painted the pictures, document the ‘gap’ and work out how to fill that gap in. Tip: this should not be a top down initiative but 360*.

Step 2: From the above create a self-descriptive Values set. These are your anchors. Not too many and not too few (we find 4-7 an optimum range) and use ‘real life’ words that resonate.

Step 3: From the above translate a way to ask questions to uncover whether people you are interviewing hold these same values and would therefore complement the culture. Make it part of a wider score led, data led interview system that avoids unconscious bias.

Step 4: Define your pass or fail. I see the most effective results from setting ‘non-negotiables’ i.e. if they don’t hit any value as a pass it’s a no, regardless of score in the rest of the interview.

Step 5: Systemise and train. Make sure that you have robust systems and that data is fed into all the places it should be to help other systems track progress/success/failures. I will do a whole other article on ‘Data’ but suffice to say once people start, the Culture must be pulse tested too (there are lots of good tools for this). It is very important to improve as you test with feedback loops. Also, all people involved (including recruitment partners) must be trained so that there is consistency and data is not missed.

Although this is a high level step guide, hopefully this will help and if you need any help setting any of this up or just free advice just shout.

*this doesn’t mean democratic but create a meaningful group that represents a 360 view of your org.