Is Adaptability More Important Than Cultural Fit


Is Adaptability More Important Than Cultural Fit

August 5, 2020
Guy Hanging Out

A recent article in Harvard Business Review (HBR), suggests that hiring employees who share similar values is especially beneficial for retention – contributing to a stable and committed workforce – but is less important to performance. Over time employees follow distinct enculturation trajectories — at certain times in their tenure demonstrating more cultural fit with colleagues and at other times less.  In fast-changing environments, a person that fits the culture at the start may not adapt to the changing environment. 

The HBR article provides additional insights on two research questions: 

  1. The importance of culture fit versus adaptability and 
  2. The benefits of not fitting in

By studying the language employees used in their communications on Glassdoor reviews and digital trace data (slack and email), the study measured how culture influenced employee’s thoughts and behaviors at work as well as their efficiency and innovation. While this approach has immense potential for managers to harness culture effectively, it is important the measures are taken to ensure employee privacy and minimize algorithmic bias. 

The results of the study found that while the cultural fit is important for retaining employees and leads to more promotions and positive performance evaluations, cultural adaptability is even more crucial for overall success. Cultural alignment doesn’t end at the point of hire. In dynamic environments, “cultural adapters” or those who can adapt to changing norms prove to be a better hire. Hiring managers should consider candidates beyond the initial cultural fit, who are able to adapt to an inevitable changing environment. 

Hiring managers should also not overlook “cultural misfits”. Those with diverse perspectives and ideas bring with them a streak of innovation and creativity that may be dampened with a homogenous set of employees. However, it is essential that misfits develop strong connections with their colleagues to be seen as innovative, rather than “outsiders”. 

A company’s culture is largely based on the people who work there. It is imperative that hiring managers strike a balance between cultural fit, adaptability as well as diversity. While cultural fit drives efficiency, adaptability and diversity are essential in a rapidly changing world. In order to thrive in uncertain times, innovation, creativity, and flexibility are just as important as commitment and efficiency.

Photo by Thanh Tran on Unsplash


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