What Thanksgiving Teaches Us About the Importance of Culture Fit

Nov 19, 2012
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

I have spoken numerous times about both the benefits and the potential detriments of using cultural fit in the hiring process. On one side many hiring managers measure candidates by cultural fit believing that candidates will stay longer if they gel well with their organization’s work environment. Others argue that cultural fit provides hiring managers an excuse to discriminate and dissuades diversity in the workplace which studies show leads to a greater flow of ideas and creativity.

A recent survey published in Forbes indicates that in an effort to increase workforce attrition, 88% of employers are looking for cultural fit over skills in their next hire.

They believe cultural fit is so important because most executives understand that a bad hire can cost between two and three times that departing employee’s salary and so hiring an employee who works and plays well with others is more important than if they are the most skilled to do the job. The theory is that if the employee likes their manager and colleagues, they will be happier and stay longer. If you’re from a big family like I am, at least on my in-laws’ side, you easily recognize the significance of cultural fit, especially when it comes to deciding who to sit next to at the dinner table.

You visit your family or your in-laws on Thanksgiving Day and the moment you walk into that crowded living room your body deflates as you realize who made it to dinner and with whom you might need to talk.  Things aren’t any different in the workplace with colleagues whom you have no genetic predisposition to like. If you’re unable to get along with your in-laws or even your own family, how much harder might it be to work well with those who you don’t even like?

Am I discriminating with my family? Sure and I am not afraid to say so. Let me take you around the room as I evaluate a few of the people sitting in front of the television and decide who I want to avoid at dinner.

The first one to catch my eye is my wife’s grandfather. He looks weary as he squints at the television and holds his cane in his right hand. Sure he’s a nice guy, but the age gap leaves us with few things to discuss over cranberry sauce and after five minutes of catching up we will do little more than annoyingly bump elbows. The elderly seem to have their own little clique and would rather hang with each other anyway.

There’s my wife’s cousin and her odd husband whose name I often forget because he rarely shows up to any events and spends most of his time outside smoking. He doesn’t really fit in with the family as most of us prefer to bathe daily and wear shirts during the holidays that don’t appear satanic in origin. He wants to sit with me about as much as I with him. Our cubicles probably shouldn’t be next to one another.

Ah, wonderful — I see another cousin has made their way up from Georgia. He’s a great guy but often can’t go two minutes without pounding the table and uproariously laughing at his own jokes. Only if I can start drinking early will I sit by him.

There’s Aunt Beula (names have been altered to protect the obese) looking sassy and out of breath in her bright purple sweater. Every holiday she discusses the new diet she’s sure not to follow and wonders why she can’t lose weight as she simultaneously crams mounds of both chocolate and pumpkin pie into her mouth. She’s a great person but I’d rather talk football — or even, gasp, business — than recipes. When the family breaks to play an outdoor game with the kids, she merrily remains on the sidelines.

Ah, there’s brother-in-law, Rob! Once we get past talking movies we still have football and other sports about which to talk. When we run out of hot topics there’s always his family we can ridicule. This is the guy I am speaking with at the water cooler in the workplace. This is the person with whom I’d want to go on a business trip.

I’m not the only one during events who is this selective. We all look around and gravitate toward those with whom we best get along. At the end of the evening, if I’m not having a good time, I can simply leave with little detriment to the gathering. However, if I leave an organization after a few months because I’m not having fun, they lose a bit more than just my idle chatter. They now have to pay someone to find a replacement. They lose productivity during my absence and they may have to train the new guy that comes on board.

So while I may have been adequately skilled to do the job my lack of cultural fit with a pod of Aunt Beulahs or gaggle of greasy, creepy metal heads, has forced me to reconsider my employment with the organization. That’s going to end up costing you a wing and a leg!

Happy Thanksgiving!

photo from the Salvation Army website

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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