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Facebook kills culture fit. 4 reasons it's the best move!

Facebook kills culture fit. 4 reasons it's the best move!

Facebook has 'prohibited the term “culture fit” when providing feedback on what interviewers liked or disliked about a candidate, requiring interviewers to provide specific feedback that supported their position.'

I'm backing Facebook on this one. Not for hitting diversity percentages or how it looks to the market. That is just an added bonus. But because culture fit and personality evaluation are screwing up hiring and recruitment. It's become dysfunctional.

According to Glassdoor Economic Research's 2015 data, the average interview process now takes 23 days, up from 13 days just four years ago. That's more lost time and considerably more cost.

It has to change. It's hurting the bottom line, the candidate experience, and good recruiter's livelihood. It's being driven by the unreflective fear that by hiring somebody who doesn't fit, performance suffers. Well, not as much as not hiring anybody at all. Or hiring a compliant zombie.

Facebook's stance on culture-fit is a great starting point. Here's why.

1: Culture drives less than 50% of an employee's behaviour

Firstly, the idea of having a designed culture you fit people into is absurd. People moving into an organisation bring with them a plethora of external influences and ideas.

Not surprisingly, research suggests that at least 60% of an employee's behaviour is driven by other factors than organisational culture. So, at most, testing his fit predicts 40% of his behavioural tendencies. For most employees, somewhat less.

If we are predicting to such a low degree of accuracy, what’s the point of using this to drive the hire?

The most important secondary factor is professionalism - i.e. how does my own understanding of my skill set and work based on my education and experience drive my behavior. The core conflict is then working out how much this will clash with cultural expectations of behaviour. If the culture has been designed to support a certain professional type, then the clashes should be minimal. But you can still only account for just of 60% of a person’s behaviour by combining organisational culture and professionalism.

However, most cultures aren’t set up around a profession. They are designed around a vanilla fudge of vision, mission and value-sets, written by executives and PR bods who want it to look good to the market. Large companies also don’t and can't have a bias towards a certain profession, so the clash between cultural and professional values is often acute.

For such companies, if the interview process is deemed to show that the person's professional drive clashes too much with the company's cultural expectations, then, however good his skillset, he's not hired.

This is insane. It basically prevents companies accessing the people who have the deepest understanding of and attraction to their profession. Those who are best at doing what they do and take it the most seriously get routinely screened out of the hiring process for not fitting. In contrast, those who are willing to give up any pretence of professional pride and fit with competing values get hired.

It’s an unavoidable paradox because it’s inherent to the system assumptions.

2: Culture fit kills creativity

If a company wants to stay competitive through innovation and creativity, the last thing it needs is having everybody fit to the norms, rules and regulations. An innovative and creative culture is an oxymoron. You can’t force people to be creative and innovative through cultural structures. Creativity fundamentally challenges the way we do things around here.

It doesn’t work the other way around.

If you want to hire people who think and act differently, you have to axe culture fit. Totally and utterly. Instead of seeing how well a person might fit, look at what they might bring by not fitting. The 60-70% of who they are that isn’t worried about fitting in. That draws from diverse personal experiences, ethnicity, schooling, gender, sexuality, politics, religion, travel, hobbies, family, and a host of other things.

I know a very senior, big firm consultant driven mad by a recent project in which people she knew had rich and varied lives outside work became zombies when they stepped through the workplace door. She had made her career through getting enthusiastic employees engaged with work by getting them to use their diverse interests to come up with solutions answering the demands of their local environment.

But she found she couldn’t do it when the company had such a strong emphasis on a purposeful culture and expected their employees to align their behaviours with that emphasis. Everything that made them diverse, creative, problem-solving humans was left at home. At work, they became automatons, mindlessly performing predetermined motions with no thought or engagement.

They’d left the best of them at the workplace door thanks to the focus on cultural fit.

You can’t get people to be creative through culture. You have to let them be themselves. If you force them to subsume over half their natural inclinations to a prescribed mode of behaviour, you cannot ever enable their creative selves to flourish. All their energy is spent on adapting their performance to your expectations rather than on thinking how to do their work better.

3: Personality and culture are completely different things

Thirdly, there’s the idea that personality can fit with culture. This is perhaps the most insane idea of the lot. For a number of reasons.

Culture is the domain of anthropology, sociology and social psychology. Personality is the domain of psychology. They examine completely different things. Outside of the workplace, I can’t think of anybody talking seriously about how measuring and aggregating personalities can help understand and design a culture.

Even if it were possible to design a culture through the aggregation of personality, which it’s not, two other things would have to be in place.

  • Firstly, self-assessed personality tests would have to have a high degree of efficacy.
  • Secondly, the first point of contact in a hire (the recruiter), would have to have deep knowledge of the culture to match it to the personality.

Despite the impressive claims made by pretty much all of the personality testing tools, the evidence that they are useful is sketchy.

  1. The evidence suggests that pretty much everyone fakes the test, saying what they believe the company wants to hear.
  2. Because there is no coherent theory about what these tests are supposed to measure, they, at best, predict performance to the degree of 9-15%. More cynical academics suggest 2%. This paradoxically means efforts made to detect faking are pointless, because the predictive impact is so low in the first place.
  3. This takes us to the first point of contact, the recruiter. For many companies, this means a contingency rather than a retained recruiter. The research suggests that for and understanding of personality to have any value at all, the person evaluating the personality has to have a deep comprehension of the context of the work. Yes, you basically have to have detailed and in-depth knowledge of how the work is being done for your evaluation of personality to have any value at all.
That is extremely difficult to do even for a retained recruiter. For a contingency one, completely fucking impossible!

What is most interesting about this research is what it does assign value to. Guess what it is. It’s the ability to fake! Nearly every job requires a degree of fakery to succeed. The inability to fake suggests the candidate will not be able to adapt to a social world. Good fakers are therefore more likely to be good employees than obvious fakers or the brutally honest.

Basically, somebody who can fake cultural fit will be more valuable than somebody who is a cultural fit (even if such a thing were measurable, which it’s not!).

4: Nobody accurately captures or manages their culture anyway

Finally, there’s the gap between an espoused organisational culture and the actual organisational culture. There’s often a huge difference between its aspirations and the lived reality.

These are only the most public example. Meta-analytical research on organisational culture reveals this gap is always present. There are always sub-cultures, often driven by very different behaviours than those espoused by corporate. Nothing can eliminate them.

So why assume we can through the hiring process? Are we running scared of diversity? Of other's opinions? Can we not manage or lead people who think, feel and behave differently? Doesn't assuming that castrate the impact and question the abilities of management and leadership themselves?

Hiring for culture fit is absurd because:

  1. Cultural expectations only account for circa 40% of an employee’s behaviour
  2. Cultural fit ensures creativity stays out of the workplace
  3. You can’t accurately measure or fit personality to culture without excellent context (and everybody fakes it anyway)
  4. Espoused culture is often very different from actual culture

So - why hire for cultural fit at all? All it does is slow the process down and add cost, providing close to zero value-add in the process. Indeed, the more cynical (or realistic) among us might conclude it actually reduces value-add.


This is how you should think about culture if you ...
What makes your culture so fucking special?

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Tuesday, 26 May 2020

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The Ironic Manager seriously rethinks how organisations work at the most fundamental level and offers a variety of solutions for businesses struggling to cope with the ambiguity and stresses inherent to contemporary organisational conditions of constant change.

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