Culture Doesn’t Happen in Theory

Much has been written in the business press — from Inc. to Harvard Business Review, Fast Company to Strategy + Business — about the importance of culture fit in organizations. The wisdom suggests that cultural fit is more important than skill and experience (assuming basic qualifications for the role) when it comes to making a good hire.

While it is difficult to find a universally accepted definition of culture, some of the most common components of how people describe culture include: “How we do things around here;” shared and observable patterns of behavior; values and rituals; underlying beliefs and assumptions; a common understanding; an informal control system. It would seem, based on these descriptions, that culture shapes how people think and act in an organization . . . so hiring someone for culture fit means (consciously or unconsciously) hiring people who think and act in ways consistent with the ways people already in the organization think and act.

At the same time, organizations are gaining a keen appreciation for the importance, and bottom line impact, of teams with a diversity of lived experience, perspective and skills. Which begs the question . . . are culture fit and diverse teams mutually exclusive?

Technically, the answer is no. In reality, however, it’s up to you. Culture doesn’t happen in theory. Do your actions demonstrate a desire to embrace different perspectives within your culture?

• Do you reward people for challenging the status quo? Are you welcoming of new ideas and different perspectives . . . really?

• Do your policies, procedures or practices create an unnecessarily narrow picture of expected behavior . . . perhaps simply because “we have always done it that way”?

• Do you shine a light on areas of peace and harmony in your organization or on the value of vigorous and at times uncomfortable conversations?

If any of the above questions gave you pause, maybe you need to be more specific in defining what “culture fit” means in your organization. What if, instead of looking for people who think and act like you, you focus on finding people who share your values and goals? What if you as a leader clearly articulate an expectation that the organization explores a diversity of perspectives related to your goals because that is how the best decisions get made? Perhaps that sounds simplistic in theory . . . but are you doing it in practice?

Culture doesn’t happen in theory.

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