When a giddy Tom Cruise surprised millions by jumping on a couch on the set of the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2005, few daytime TV viewers predicted his relationship with Hollywood ingénue Katie Holmes would last very long.
Yet Cruise and Holmes—or “Tomkat,” as the celebrity tabloids nauseously nicknamed the couple—bore on full speed ahead, as though completely oblivious to any of the signs that their relationship was doomed from the start. After only two months of dating, they announced their engagement.
Five years later, they’re now back in the spotlight, this time announcing their split.
Familiar as this kind of story is to pop culturists, seasoned managers and HR leaders may be reminded of a similar lesson gleaned in the offices and conference rooms of the workplace. This is the story of the hotshot new hire—the one with the perfect resume and all the right skills—who after just a few months on the job surprises everyone by seeming unable or unwilling to meet the high expectations placed on them. Or, just as likely, who unceremoniously decamps to another company.
Both Tomkat and the superstar new hire teach us about the importance of hiring for cultural fit. If Holmes, who has reportedly expressed concerns over Cruise’s strong ties with Scientology, had taken a sober inventory of her budding relationship with Cruise and his faith, she may have saved herself a headache in the process. So too can managers make informed hiring decisions by taking cultural fit into consideration. Here are just a few ways to do so:
Understand Your Workplace Culture
For a starlet in the Hollywood dating scene, understanding one’s unique personal culture is the first step to attracting a partner who will mesh well with one’s goals and values. The same can be said for the HR leader searching for candidates who will fit their organization’s culture. However, as an amorphous, multifaceted concept encompassing the shared values of many, culture can be difficult to define and understand. Employee engagement surveys help leaders in this regard by pinpointing the areas where employees strongly identify with the organizational culture, and areas where there may be some room for improvement. Surveys essentially allow you to see the culture through the employee’s eyes. Once senior leadership has used your survey to action plan toward a culture reflective of your values, you are in an excellent position to define your culture, understand its facets, and hire employees who will thrive in its midst.
Communicate Your Workplace Culture
In our hyper-connected world, it is important not only to understand yourself and your own special culture, but also to be mindful of how you communicate your culture to the world. Never is this truer than when searching for a partner, as through communication we provide others with a means to identify in ourselves what may or may not align with different personal cultures. The clothes we wear, the way we talk, the topics we choose to discuss, our spiritual professions, or our behavior on a nationally syndicated daytime talk show enjoyed by millions—all these things can help others understand our culture. In the workplace, developing an internal brand and communication strategy serves this end beautifully. Once you have defined the values that underpin your organizational culture, develop communications that reflect those values, such as a newsletter with articles highlighting positive employee behaviors. Through such a publication, your team not only rewards employees who exhibit behaviors aligning with your corporate culture, but you also reinforce those behaviors in your employee population at large. During your hiring cycle, leverage this style of branding in your communications with candidates, in whose best interest it is to begin to understand your culture as soon as they make first contact. Even your job advertisements can clue them in.
Expose Interviewees to Your Workplace Culture
In the case of Tomkat, greater pre-marriage exposure to each other would likely have done much to prevent the fallout Holmes and Cruise are now suffering as a result of their cultural clash. In fact, Holmes has described having nursed a youthful crush on the older Cruise prior to meeting him, and had she spent more time with him before rushing down the aisle, she might have realized they didn’t truly “click” as a couple. Likewise is it important to expose job candidates to your organizational culture. With a deep understanding of your workplace culture and a framework in place for sustaining it through communication and expert management, the hiring process becomes, in part, a practice in identifying whether a skilled candidate will fit with your culture. As such, a favorite best practice of many hiring managers is to facilitate interaction between the candidate and their potential coworkers, allowing each party to gain a sense of whether there is a cultural match. Since employees are the true standard bearers of your culture, they should be encouraged to provide their honest feedback on whether they feel the candidate is right for the team—and why or why not. This practice provides a more complete sense of the cultural fit and, when the right candidate is identified, allows employee engagement to be achieved before the new hire’s first day of work has even begun.
Whatever the methods chosen for making cultural fit a part of the hiring process, the main takeaway should be that cultural compatibility is absolutely essential to any relationship—whether in the workplace or in a marriage. So the next time your job candidate starts jumping up and down on the couch a la Tom Cruise, think about whether their behavior evinces a cultural match with your organization. If you’re a carnival impresario hiring for an acrobat, you may just have found your new star employee.