2 Pitfalls Of Hiring For Cultural Fit (And How To Avoid Them)


During a recent study conducted by Cubiks, a premier international assessment consultancy, an astounding 80% of employers surveyed named "cultural fit" as their top priority whenever interviewing or hiring someone new for their staff. The study showed that over the past 25 years, organizations have slowly shifted away from critically analyzing the core skills, abilities, and work-related experience of the candidates they meet in-person, in exchange for swift assessments on the "likeability" of those they are interviewing, and whether or not if hired, they will mesh well with those already on their respective teams.

Thanks in large part to companies like Google, Apple, Southwest Airlines, and Facebook, who have long been praised for how they intentionally foster fun and casual workplace environments in order to encourage their employees to actively engage with one another, hiring for cultural fit is sometimes the result of snap judgments by interviewers as to not only who they would want to work with, but also hang out with after work hours.

For many organizations, where there is a sense of chemistry between a candidate and his or her interviewer (for example: a shared hobby or sport, a similar taste in fashion or food, or perhaps the same alma mater), there is an underlining assumption that productivity and loyalty to and for the organization will also follow if hired.

In his book, Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code, Dr. Samuel Chand states that while "vision and strategy usually focus on products, services, and outcomes […] culture is about the people – the most valuable asset in the organization." He adds that the "organizational culture" of a church is in fact its "personality," which is often defined by several intangibles - those common beliefs and assumptions shared and celebrated by those already on staff.

As churches continue to evaluate and discern the "cultural fit" of those they interview, here are a couple common challenges organizations can face when their hiring process has become too relationally subjective and nebulous, something your church cannot afford to ignore:

1. Lack of Diversity

Although companies like Chipotle, Starbucks, and Twitter have all in recent months made considerable strides to increase their focus for more racial and gender diversity within their hiring practices, progress for many other large organizations remains slow. According to a recent survey conducted by the Corporate Executive Board, a staggering 74% of all leaders admit that the person they most recently hired looked "just like them." While there are benefits to homogenous workplace cultures, Lauren Rivera, a professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, states that "too much similarity can lead to teams that are overconfident, ignore vital information, and make poor (or even unethical) decisions."

By expanding the schools and cities where your team actively recruits its candidates, tasking them to create an actual checklist that determines "fit" over the personal discernment of one or two interviewers, and encouraging them to focus less on the extracurricular activity of the candidates and more on their proven ability to align with the mission and the responsibilities of the role they are interviewing for, your church will always do better at reflecting the diversity and "cultural fit" of heaven, and not simply the ethnic demographics of its pews.

2. Confusing Rapport For Skill

Mark Murphy, author of Hiring For Attitude, states that "Eighty-nine percent of the time, if a new hire fails, they fail for attitude, not for skill." With such a high percentage of failure dependent on the personal character and attitude of the candidates we hire, it’s not difficult to understand why so many companies and churches insist on focusing their hiring processes to determine cultural fit and the possible chemistry candidates will have with their team.

However, Murphy also adds that "when hiring for attitude, a lot of the old-school hiring methodologies are just horribly ineffective […] they are not designed for this new world."

Some of these outdated methodologies are rooted in the questions we ask during our interviews. Questions like "tell me about yourself" or "tell me about your strengths and weaknesses" offer very little to determine a candidate’s honest assessment of his or work performance, but only unveil how well they can communicate congenially at the moment.

Eric Herrenkohl, author of How To Hire A-Players, insists that we should always "assess the job before assessing the person." If the role your church is hiring for is one that is more administrative, creative, or technical in nature, be sure you don’t skip over some great candidates because they weren’t conversationalists when being interviewed. If your team prefers more casual, relaxed environments to conduct its interviews, such as a coffee shop or restaurant, be sure to incorporate more skill-based assessments during that time as well.

This could help your team move past what they simply like about a candidate, to what the position actually requires from a candidate.

In conclusion, there is nothing wrong with determining cultural fit for your church and staff. We as believers will always have a natural tendency to surround ourselves with people who not only think like us, but also believe like us. However, while ‘cultural fit’ can be our goal, employee uniformity should never be.

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