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The problem with obsessing about cultural ‘fit’


How often have you heard comments such as:


  • “He was the wrong ‘fit’ for the role.”
  • “She didn’t ‘fit’ the culture of the team.”
  • “We have to hire for the right ‘fit’, not just for capability?”


It’s almost become an unquestionable truth that ‘fit’ or ‘cultural fit’ is a good thing, to the extent that there is an obsession about it. Hiring managers talk about it. Recruitment consultants talk about it (see Australian Financial Review article When your cultural fit matters more than your CV). Team members talk about it. See Guess who doesn’t fit in at work for examples.


So the result is that many of us:


  • Try to ‘fit’ into a team and organisation.
  • Try to ‘fit’ into the expectation of managers and other key people.
  • Cover up what doesn’t ‘fit’ the norm (see What is Covering?)
  • Don’t speak up because our views don’t ‘fit’.


So what’s the problem with obsessing with ‘fit’?


It’s a problem when it is about making it easier to work together or causes people to fit in rather than bring their full selves.


First, we hurt ourselves by obsessing about ‘fit’.


  • We’re not memorable in interviews or other situations when we meet people (see You’re hurting yourself by trying so hard to fit in).
  • Our potentially valuable ideas that do not ‘fit’ are lost because we don’t speak up when we should, thinking it’s not important, no one would listen or you’ll be seen as a complainer.
  • We are not noticed or valued for our unique and authentic selves and contributors. We can get so used to covering our real selves that we lose connection with ourselves.
  • We don’t learn how to work with others who may be different, because fitting in is the norm and we judge those who don’t ‘fit’ rather than try to understand them.


Secondly, we hurt the team and organisation.


  • We limit innovation because people who are in the organisation try to ‘fit’ and people who don’t ‘fit’ are overlooked or are not in the organisation. What if the box we want people to ‘fit’ into is wrong, outdated, too small, biased by our past or beliefs? What if the person you don’t get along with has the best idea?
  • We end up being a commodity - boring and not memorable – as a team and as an organisation. In a competitive marketplace with so much noise, it’s a huge disadvantage to be an unmemorable commodity. Customer buy on price, not value. You’re not noticed.
  • We don’t grow or evolve – we continue to re-live the past when the majority tries to ‘fit’. If different approaches, styles, thinking, perspectives, and backgrounds are constantly rejected as not ‘fitting’, how does an organisation learn and grow? We also risk not challenging unhealthy cultural norms when people are afraid of not ‘fitting’.
  • We stay in our comfort zones of working only with people who we get along with, people who agree and don’t challenge or people who are like us, more or less. We then don’t learn to work well with difference, which limits our ability to work well with different clients and suppliers.
  • Diversity goals are not reached – obsession with ‘fit’ is one big barrier to achieving true diversity in organisations. True diversity and inclusiveness has to go beyond the numbers and people feeling included. Inclusiveness needs to be incorporate learning to work with people who may not ‘fit’, even if it may feel challenging.


Being different, not fitting in, standing out is more important than ever. If we want our team and organisations to stand out and be differentiated, why would we want our people to ‘fit’ in? Adam Grant, in his book Originals, states that hire for cultural fit only works for some time and organisations can have greater difficulty attracting, retaining and integrating a diverse workforce.


In a future post I plan share the reasons why we obsess about ‘fit’ and the challenges to overcoming it. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your unique and different thoughts!


Related articles:

Are you a leader that gets the best from a mix of different people?

Unconscious bias is a business issue, not just a diversity issue

Christmas presents fit in boxes, people don’t

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