As an executive search professional, it’s my job to locate qualified candidates, conduct interviews and psychometric assessments and check references with an eye to presenting a set of candidates to the client. However, it doesn’t matter how thorough this search process, there is always the matter of whether or not the candidate will successfully fit into and thrive in their new environment. This is known as cultural fit.
Cultural fit has everything to do with the values, beliefs and behaviours practiced within an organization that in turn create a psychological environment. An easier way to describe this is simply, “how we do things around here”. Culture is set by leaders and over time becomes entrenched through both formal and informal rules and sanctioned behaviours. Organization culture can also be seen through the physical attributes within the building facility. Usually this is seen through the size of the offices, management versus staff work areas and even parking facilities.
There has been plenty of research on the various types of organization cultures. For instance, some organizations have an aggressive culture where employees must be comfortable with taking risks. Another type of organization focuses on creating groups or “clubs” of highly qualified and specialized employees. Still, another style of organizational culture and one that is not at all positive is the so called “fortress” culture. Here you will see employees engaging in self-protection and so you will see very little teamwork. Other organization cultures will be quite open and flexible with employees at all levels being more interactive versus an organization that is very hierarchical with strict, formal lines of communication.
It is the leader that creates the organization culture and they do so through their communication style, their decisions and their behavior. You can sense the nature of the culture by what the leader pays attention to, how they assign their rewards, what behaviour is punished and how they allocate their resources.
However, the challenge for the search consultant and for an organizational board or senior leadership, is whether or not the client wants a candidate who can change the culture. When this is the case, candidates must be seen to be not only very visionary but able to make things happen. They have to be able to create a process for change and influence followers to engage in a new way of doing things. The situation is challenging to say the least.
Leaders who can successfully change an organization culture needs to create a psychological structure that helps employees continue to feel safe while going through change. This is accomplished through clear direction, explaining and educating people on the new vision and helping everyone to set new goals for themselves. This requires good listening skills, evidence of empathy and sensitivity to the emotions of those going through change and plenty of persuasion skills. It requires foresight as to the impact of change and the ability to put systems and processes in place to move the organization toward stability. Finally, a new leader must be able to create a renewed sense of community where everyone shares the vision, the goals and the objectives.
Clients and candidates alike must also recognize that most change leaders are not maintainers. In other words, once they have successfully changed an organization and stabilized its culture, they are often ready to move on to other challenges. This might take three to five years. Once the organization encounters a period of sustained success and the business environment suggests continued opportunity, a different type of leader is often required.
As a result, search consultants and clients must understand that both organizational culture and leadership style are key to success. Therefore, I always work closely with my clients at the beginning of an assignment to discuss the culture of the organization and determine the specific skills and talents needed for success.