What is a good cultural fit – and is it really important?

  • career advice
  • August 26, 2016

We hear a lot these days about the importance of selecting a job at a company at which the employee is a good cultural fit. This emphasis seems to be well placed. In an analysis of approximately 200 studies, the average correlation between good cultural fit and positive work experience was 0.43. This indicates that cultural fit accounts for almost half the variance between employees in job satisfaction. It is more important in predicting an employee’s commitment to their employer than the fit between that person’s skills and the job – but how many job candidates can precisely define what a good cultural fit consists of?

Poor cultural fit

Here’s what a good cultural fit isn’t. It isn’t an environment where all the employees share a common personality type, attitude, thinking style and background. That sounds like working with a bunch of clones. A number of studies have confirmed that one of the drivers of innovation and better financial performance is diversity. A workforce consisting of people who all think alike is unlikely to consistently spur innovation.

This is not to say that someone who is naturally an introvert is a good fit for a firm that requires its employees to engage in regular loud, boisterous cheerleading activities – that’s probably not the best setting for that person. The position does need to fit an employee’s personality – but that doesn’t mean that only one personality type is a good fit for that employer. The employer should offer a work environment that accommodates a variety of personality types.

One’s attitude toward work and work habits are also important. If an employer requires adherence to strict work hours and a job candidate wants flexibility – as long as they get the work done on time – the position might not be a good fit – even if the candidate’s job skills and experience are. 

Positive cultural fit

The seemingly most widely accepted definition of a good cultural fit is when the employee’s norms and values are compatible with those of their employer. Here’s a somewhat extreme example: from 1957 until 2000, Disney park employees were prohibited from having facial hair (even though Walt Disney sported a moustache). For some potential employees such a policy, or perhaps the degree to which Disney was micromanaging their lives, would have been off-putting enough to be a deal breaker. Apparently, Disney was having problems recruiting enough of the talent they needed and eliminated the policy (except for the seven dwarfs!). 

The benefits of a good cultural fit have been validated through many studies. In additional to having greater job satisfaction, they include:

  • Identifying more with their company
  • Longer tenure
  • Greater commitment to their job
  • Higher levels of job performance

A good cultural fit doesn’t mean conformity to a rigid set of guidelines. It allows the individual to be different and unique and still remain true to their company’s core values. All of this assumes of course, that the company is also true to their core values. If a firm’s core values are just window dressing to impress potential employees and customers, or aspirational to be attained someday in the future, the result will be cynicism, disillusionment and high turnover. A good cultural fit requires adherence to core values for both the employee and the employer.

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