How to Assess Culture Fit In An Employee

by Sep 7, 2018Leadership

How they were graded on this can predict their ability to be good team members. 

There is a popular book series that’s based on the idea that everything we need to know, we learned in kindergarten. There’s some real truth to this. But I would like to take things in a different direction. I believe that when it comes to assessing if an employee is truly a culture fit for your organization, everything you need to know appeared at the bottom of their Third Grade report card. 

What you need to know is whether this person works and plays well with others. 

In a prior article, I discussed the dilemma of hiring brilliant jerks: people you tolerate because they are so good at what they do. But there’s always a cost to your culture when you keep people like this around. 

Ideally, you want an early warning indicator that will alert you to whether an employee will fit into our organizational culture or not. That’s where the Third Grade report card comes into play. 

When your teacher assessed you way back then, who knew it could be the first sign of whether or not you could be successful in the modern workforce. In fact, it might be the most important factor–more than his or her technical skills–in whether or not someone will have a successful career. 

For example, I was recently working with a CEO of a large company to help him solve some cultural issues he was dealing with. I might describe the culture of the business as being polite, respectful, and maybe a little slow paced. It was a great place to work. 

But not everyone is a good fit. One example was the CFO. He was really good at his job. He had just restructured the company’s debt and cleaned up the ownership structure–both big complex jobs he handled well. But the CFO liked working alone. He was also aggressive and a fast-talker–which made him seem rude and even abusive to his colleagues. People always left his office feeling like they had been wrestling with a porcupine. So, they began to avoid him as much as they could. 

That left the CEO with the dilemma of having someone who was a great individual contributor, but who also didn’t work and play well with others. The CEO had to decide if the CFO’s positive contributions outweighed his negative impact on the culture. 

What would you do in that same situation? 

In this case, my client decided to fire the CFO. The risk to the culture of teamwork he was trying to build was too great to keep the CFO around any longer. I’d be willing to make a bet that his 3rd Grade report card showed the earliest signs of these issues. 

The truth is that these days, as projects and businesses get more complex and changes happen faster than ever, few people can tackle projects on their own. You need a team–which means everyone must learn to work well with each other. If they can’t do that, then they’re missing what have become fundamental skills for being an effective employee or executive. 

Anytime someone creates a so-called “hostile environment,” where people don’t feel comfortable at work, you also increase the chances that your organization could be liable legally. You simply cannot afford to have anyone who isn’t a team player in your organization anymore. You need to have a new standard when it comes to evaluating your people and whether they will fit your culture or not. 

Which ties back again to that Third Grade report card. So, as you think about the people inside your organization or on your executive team, ask yourself if they truly work and play well with others.