When applying for a new job, a common question to ask is whether or not you can see yourself working at the given organization. It’s a logical inquiry—after all, you want to make sure that the organization you apply to is a match for your experience, skills, and goals. Companies are also looking for candidates who would be good matches, and not just in terms of their qualifications and skills, but of how well they would mesh with the organization. This trait is known as culture fit—defined as the likelihood that someone will reflect and adapt to core beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that make up an organization—and it has become a guiding star of many companies’ hiring practices.
Indeed, culture fit can be an incredible asset for organizations. I’ve written about the value of a strong organizational culture before, so hiring employees with an eye on their capacity to adapt can be an effective way to help cultivate and maintain a company’s culture. However, prioritizing culture fit over candidates’ other qualities and traits can be a detriment to the candidates as well as the organizations. It can cause candidates with higher qualifications to be overlooked in favor of applicants who are more of a social match, and some experts assert that culture fit can serve as a front for hiring discrimination (intentionally or otherwise).
In a recent Forbes article, Rich Lyons, the dean of the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, pointed out another potential pitfall of hiring based on culture fit: Managers and leaders look for employees who stand out from the crowd, which becomes less likely when employees are hired on the basis of how well they fit in with the crowd. This can pin employees between a rock and a hard where they need to find ways to distinguish themselves and break the mold while maintaining the culture fit that prompted their hiring.
Instead, according to new research, organizations should de-emphasize culture fit in hiring in favor of “enculturability,” the ability to change and adapt to cultural cues while bridging gaps between various departments, roles, and so on. In fact, the research suggests that the most successful employees are those hired with low culture fit but high enculturability, indicating that the capacity to adapt and be flexible is more valuable than how well an employee initially meshes with the organization.
To gauge levels of enculturability, the researchers suggest asking questions to determine if candidates seek out culturally diverse environments, how rapidly they adjust to new environments, and how they stay true to themselves while adapting to new circumstances.
It’s important to remember that neither enculturability nor culture fit are hiring silver bullets, and candidates should be considered on the basis of their experience, attributes, and myriad other factors. This new research, however, is a powerful reminder that job candidates should be evaluated not solely on the basis of how well they fit into the jigsaw puzzle of a company’s culture but on how well they can adapt and evolve.