DAV Professional Placment Group
DAV Professional Placment Group


Johannesburg +27 11 217 0000

Cape Town +27 21 468 7000

JOHANNESBURG +27 11 217 0000
CAPE TOWN +27 21 468 7000

Leadership: Hiring or Developing for Culture Fit


Leadership Hiring or Developing for Culture Fit November 2015 - Judy Hofer

There’s no longer any doubt that culture fit is a strong component of productivity and success in a leadership role. It’s also essential for long-term engagement and retention. Culture fit can cover a variety of characteristics, but ultimately, the question hiring managers should be looking to answer is, does this candidate’s values align with those of the company, be they work-life balance, corporate mission or how to handle a customer phone call?

Evaluating for culture fit shouldn’t come at the expense of evaluating for competence, however. Always strive for candidates with both high culture fit and high competence, but if you do have to make a choice choose the medium competence candidate who most closely shares your vision, values and purpose. Also balance your evaluation against the need for diverse backgrounds, experiences, ideas, and working styles within your leadership team.

The truth is even the most qualified candidate may fail if he/she doesn’t fit within the corporate culture; and all to often an ill-fitting candidate can prove toxic to the culture itself. So, how do you hire or develop for something as nebulous as culture fit? Begin by making sure you have defined your culture and then screen candidates for their fit against what you have defined. Sheila Margolis recommends using the following 3 P’s to do so:

Purpose (The Why) Your Purpose is the fundamental reason why the organisation exists (beyond profit) and is central to its culture. When the purpose of the organisation is meaningful to an employee, it provides a connection to work that is not just rational: it’s also emotional. Your purpose statement should be brief but broad in scope and should address the following:

  • Is it a contribution to society – not a product or service?
  • Does it answer the question: Why is the work we do important?
  • Does it inspire and motivate?
  • Does it use powerful words?

Philosophy (The How) Your philosophy is a set of fundamental, distinguising and enduring values that directs behaviour within the company; employees use them to guide their decisions and daily actions. Identify candidates who obsess about “how” you do things at your company – this will produce a workplace where employees live the principles consistently. Spend time analysing the company’s values and determining how those values can be translated into actions. A few questions can reveal your philosophy:

  1. What value has been fundamental and distinctive to our organisation since its founding?
  2. What special attribute does our company’s founder possess that has influenced the character of the organisation?
  3. What ideals drove the organisation’s creation?
  4. What makes this organisation feel different from other companies in the same business?
  5. What is central to who we are as an organisation that should never change?

Priorities (The Strategic How) Priorities guide ‘how’ the purpose and philosophy are put into practice; think of them as strategic values. They are the ones that will allow you to compete and thrive and to reach your goals; hence you need to know your goals to be able to define them. Specific areas of a company may have additional unique strategic priorities, informed by their goals and objectives. In selecting people for culture fit, they must be aligned with both the organisation-wide strategic priorities and the area strategic priorities where they will be working. Ask the following to uncover your priorities:

  1. What should we focus on and pay attention to?
  2. To effectively achieve our goals, what values should guide everyone in how we work?
  3. What key values, if followed, will allow our organisation to compete and thrive?

To further understand your culture, The Bridgespan Group recommends asking the following questions:

Work Style

  • How do we get our work done? Collaboratively? Independently? A combination?
  • How do we make decisions? Consensus-driven? Authoritatively?
  • How do we communicate? Verbally or in written form? Directly or indirectly?
  • What are our meetings like? Serious? Lighthearted? Tightly or loosely structured?

Professional Opportunities and Advancement

  • What types of people tend to do well here? Individual contributors? Team players? People who are proactive or more responsive?
  • How are we structured? Hierarchical or flat? Centralised or decentralised authority? Clear reporting structures or matrix?
  • How do we reward people who do well?
  • What happens when people don’t perform well?

Work Hours and Commitment to Work

  • How many hours a week do we expect senior management to work on average?
  • Do we provide flexible work schedules or allow for telecommuting, or do we prefer people to work set hours?
  • How much travel do we expect of senior management?
  • Are we looking for someone who will be here for a certain number of years or as part of a succession plan for senior management?

Architecture, Aesthetics, and Atmosphere

  • How are our offices set up? Open environment? Closed-door offices?
  • How do we dress? More formally? Less formally?
  • How do we have fun?

Also ask yourself what you are looking for in your leadership beyond their job descriptions:

  • What kinds of senior management personalities and work styles currently exist in our organisation?
  • What adjectives would we use to describe the people who have been successful in our organisation?
  • What kind of decision-making style do we want this new senior leader to have? Are we looking for an approach that is similar to the executive director’s or for a different, complementary style?
  • Are we looking for someone to create more teamwork within the organisation or to establish more authority and hierarchy?
  • What kind of leadership style are we looking for in this position? Someone who will promote the status quo or someone who will shake things up within the organisation?
  • Are we looking for a senior leader with more “gravitas” or someone who will lighten up the existing team?
  • What types of personalities work well with the various stakeholders we interact with and what characteristics will this person need to have in order to be successful in these interactions?

Once you have defined your core culture make sure your recruitment, interviewing (remember to use behaviour-based interview questions), hiring and internal development processes reflect and support it.

If you have any questions or if we can help in any way, please get in touch.


  1. Hiring for Culture Fit – Sheila Margolis
  2. Should You Really Hire for Cultural Fit over Competence? – Diana Martz, Openview Labs
  3. How to Hire People Who Fit a Company’s Culture – Will Staney, Head of Global Recruiting, Glassdoor, as seen on Entrepreneur
  4. Determining a Candidate’s Culture Fit – The Bridgespan Group


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