What Is Cultural Fit and How Do You Hire for It?


Every company has its own corporate culture and proverbial personality. “Corporate culture” refers to a company’s general attitude, which often reflects the mindset of a company’s upper management and serves as a common premise that defines how things are done and what is valued.

Company culture is an integral part of business and is no longer seen as an afterthought when considering the business strategy and focus of an organization. It affects nearly every aspect of an organization. From recruiting top talent to improving employee satisfaction, culture is the backbone of a happy workforce. Without a positive corporate culture, many employees will struggle to find the real value in their work, and this leads to retention issues and other negative consequences for the overall organization and the individual teams.

An ever-growing body of research points to the positive impact the right corporate culture can have in increasing performance, retention, loyalty and, ultimately, the organization’s bottom line. A study conducted by The University of Iowa confirms that employees who fit well with their organization, coworkers and management have greater job satisfaction, less turnover and higher on-the-job performance. “It’s not exactly ground-breaking stuff when we talk about the importance of cultural fit,” the report reads. “Drilling down into this makes business sense.”

Broadly speaking, cultural fit means that an employee’s beliefs and behaviors are in alignment with their employer’s core values and the company culture. For each company that can mean something inherently different. It can also vary from team to team and department to department within a single organization.

Define Your Culture

Before you can hire for cultural fit, it is imperative that the organization and legal team clearly articulate what the culture is as well as what the nuances are for the legal team in particular. What are the aligned values, beliefs, behaviors and experiences that make up the organization’s and team’s environment? If culture isn’t defined, or the definition does not match reality, cultural fit can start to mean different things, or simply: “Are they like me? Do they think/work/live like me?” A hiring process built around an undefined notion of culture fit can lead to homogeneous cultures and results in a problematic lack of diversity.

To begin defining your culture, it is important that you get really granular and determine exactly what makes someone successful at your company and on your team. It is particularly important to determine what it takes to thrive, versus just do well, in the company:

Start at the top. This process should begin with talking to members of senior management to determine their goal and management styles and how top management works with each other. Sit down with your CEO and other top C-suite executives and ask them what makes a “perfect employee.” Also, write down your vision for the perfect employee in the legal department. This is the best way to start, but you need other input as well.

Analyze your top performers and look at those who failed – what made them fail? Why were they not successful?

Talk to the lawyers on your team and ask them to describe the culture in their view. Does their perspective align with what you believe the culture is or should be? How is the legal department viewed within the company? Understanding a company’s corporate culture and the overall cultural context within which the legal team operates is critical to ensuring that in-house counsel provide advice that is pragmatic and effective—and implemented by the client. Taking into consideration the atmosphere in which advice is heard is often as important as ensuring that the advice is legally correct.

Be honest with yourself about what the reality is and what you will need to do to make your vision come to fruition.

Streamline Your Hiring Process

Next, you need to make sure your hiring process is effective at evaluating talent.

  • Incorporate elements of your culture into your marketing. Show your organization’s personality on your social media channels and in the communications you send. Your position descriptions should reflect the values of the organization and team and set the tone for what a perspective employee can expect if he or she joins the team.
  • Look for cultural fit throughout the interview process. This is crucial! Come up with behavioral interview questions that will help you pinpoint the candidates that fit best and think carefully about the kind of answers that you want. We’ve found that it’s far easier to judge ‘fit’ over lunch or dinner, through an informal chat, than it is in the formal structures of an interview process.
  • Maintain consistency in your culture beyond the interview. Make sure you are walking the walk once a new hire joins the team. New hires should feel welcomed on their first day in a manner that aligns with the culture you have sold them and that you want to live.

Hiring is a complex process and fit is a crucial factor. Companies that put culture first are becoming icons for job seekers—especially the future generation of leaders who place a premium on work-life balance and culture fit when choosing where to work. There’s a reason why companies who are named as a “Best Place to Work” see so much success: These organizations tend to have strong, positive corporate cultures that help employees feel and perform their best at work.

To hire those attorneys who will best fit on your legal team and within the organization, gain a deep understanding for your organization’s overall culture as well as the culture of your legal team. Then use your hiring process to identify team members who will fit well with that culture and help maintain it.


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