More Than Fitting In

Company culture can look very pretty from the outside but it is what they do on the inside that matters.

When people describe employee/employer pairings that fail, they often say, “S/he wasn’t a good fit.” And people who leave companies often say simply, “I didn’t really fit in there.” When the culture of your workplace doesn’t work for you, it is easy to feel like the awkward kid who just can’t find the right crowd to join in middle school and lies awake at night dreaming of simply and completely fitting in. But fitting in is not the answer when it comes to finding the right place to hang your star.

Rather, we find that finding the right culture fit for you is less about being one of the crowd, like everyone else at work, and more about feeling nourished by and encouraged to be your authentic self at work.

Like the air we breathe, culture is often defined simply as, “the way we do things here” at an organization, and it impacts how we thrive at work profoundly. Jean described it this way: “I couldn’t put my finger around why the culture didn’t work well for me at my first job. On the surface, it seemed ideal. But over time, it became clear that the way people acted with each other reflected beliefs and values that were inconsistent with what mattered to me.”

In 2014, Merriam Webster dictionary stated that culture was the most popular word of the year. People around the world have become very curious about culture and it’s role in the companies for whom they work. People and organizations are looking at culture intensely today, and with unemployment rates continuing to decrease year over year to a low of 5% in November of 2015 (compared to highs of 9-10 in 2009,) employees are increasingly in charge of determining where to bring their talent. Culture will remain a critical dimension in the choices employees make and in their contentment with their choices.

By most measures, organizational culture matters to companies and to employees for two key reasons:

  1. It determines an organizations ability to sustain its health over time vis-à-vis performance and results.

  2. It reflects the day-in and day-out behaviors likely to be in place for employees who work there, which determines ease of fit and probability of long term partnership. But culture fit is highly subjective. This is the reason people we speak with from companies large and small, famous and not so famous, find themselves describing their organization in such different terms. We can get a glimpse at the diverse views of what constitutes a “good” culture by looking at the ways CEO’s describe their cultures:
“Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with passion.”
-Brian Chesky, Co-Founder, CEO, Airbnb
“We try to have the kind of a culture that doesn’t value excuses in the sense that when you’re supposed to accomplish something, and you’re at a high level, then your job is to accomplish it, in spite of difficulty. And you’re rewarded for dealing with that.”
-Phil Libin, Co-Founder, former CEO of Evernote 
“We have a culture where we are incredibly self critical, we don’t get comfortable with our success.”
-Mark Parker, CEO, Nike
“Determine what behaviors and beliefs you value as a company, and have everyone live true to them. These behaviors and beliefs should be so essential to your core, that you don’t even think of it as culture.”
-Brittany Forsyth, VP of Human Relations, Shopify
“There’s no magic formula for great company culture. The key is just to treat your staff how you would like to be treated.”
-Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group

The impact of any culture on any employee is equally diverse. For Jasper, being treated like you want to be treated (as Richard Branson mentions) might appeal to his value on fairness and equity, whereas Jane might be drawn to an accomplishment culture such as how Phil Knight describes how they do things at Nike.

So how can you assess fit? It is often the invisible and hard to quantify dimensions of how an organization does things (culture) that most affects what it is really like to work there day in and day out. Listen to your intuition and, most importantly, spend time really knowing yourself and the kind of environment in which you thrive. Then, consider the elements of culture fit below:

Checklist for Culture Fit

The organization’s actions match it’s values.

  • My communication style works well here.
  • I feel clear about how my work supports the mission of the company.
  • I believe I can have a positive impact.
  • I feel fully engaged.
  • I understand my role and my job.
  • I am able to be myself.
  • Things are done in a reliable, consistent way.
  • I like how they do things here.
Jim Morris