Not a Cultural Fit – Hacker Noon

The key component of a good “culture fit” can be directly linked to employee happiness, and the idea is that a happy employee is more productive, and that will ultimately lead to more profit. It’s a win-win. Companies believe that fostering the well-being of their employees will contribute to their success, and research by the SHRM shows that promoting policies which will increase employees feelings of well-being, such as respectful treatment at all levels, will ultimately lead to greater happiness levels and overall better job satisfaction. There’s plenty of other sources which indicate that happiness improves business results.

Unsurprisingly though, employee happiness is also determined to a large extent by the individual’s own personality, as research carried out by Robertson Cooper Ltd, a workplace wellbeing consultancy, indicates. They have found that employees who scored high on positive emotions and enthusiasm, and lower on depressive tendencies, will experience more “good days at work” than the others.

If a key component of a successful “culture fit” is personality, then, to a significant degree, specific traits would be those which indicate a relatively happy individual. A less than happy person could not only have problems with adapting and being productive, but also be a negative effect on the rest of the team. Whenever there’s a poor cultural fit, the overall morale of the team is affected, and inevitably is the effectiveness as well. At this point, it’s relatively safe to assume that organisations prefer, for the most part, homogeneity vs eccentricity. For this reason there’s a good amount of effort put by a growing number of organisations into screening candidates for cultural fitness.

A candidate, on the other hand, will attempt to put their best face forward, when interviewing for a new job, or a promotion, in order to maximise the possibility of acquiring the position. This, however, poses a problem of imbalance between people’s behaviour and the emotional states they want to appear they are feeling.

A new study by researchers at Stanford, published in the Emotions journal, found that “what is interpreted as the ‘best impression’ varies from person to person and from culture to culture”. The study further suggests that the practice of recruiting for cultural fit may lead to hiring bias. This finding doesn’t seem to be much of surprise, with various organisations already starting to voice their discontent with the practice, such as, which instead advocates on their Open blog for a slightly different approach called “cultural add”. Facebook also has their own response for managing unconscious bias, an internal training programme which they have made public.

The Nokia Moment

Is the company culture really that important for an organisation success? And if so, how far should the organisation go in terms of applying it? A recent BBC4 documentary called The Rise and Fall of Nokia reveals that in its heyday, a core value of Nokia used to be “Respect for people”. But as Nokia was found itself with huge, unexpected success, a shift in values also started to emerge. The film further shows how Nokia’s enormous, quite sudden, success also started to attract a large number of people who might have been drawn to the organisation just because they were looking for success and financial gain, rather than making a worthwhile contribution. This has overtime led to the core value being reduced to just “Respect” alone, which arguably has played a role in Nokia’s eventual inability to further innovate.

So could this be a case of too much company culture? Successful companies which are now in a position of prosperity, are very weary about their success and how long it might last, fearing a Nokia moment which draws analogies with the moment in which Nokia was just before the release of the iPhone.

I can also report that I may have witnessed a Nokia moment in one of my previous jobs in my career. Back in Amsterdam for about five years I have worked for a start-up which was developing a web and mobile chat messenger platform. A very successful product by all accounts, with a large user base and popularity, reaching its peak sometime in 2009 when profitability was at an all-time high, the engineering team operating as a well-oiled machine, and overall employee job satisfaction was soaring. So the company was expanding and, as a result, the company culture was also being shaped more clearly. The core values and principles were emerging, along with various management level position changes. By 2011, the general attitude has changed, the core companies values were prominently displayed and circulated internally, and these changes seemed to have coincided with a decline in the chat messaging market.

The advent of the iPhone and other smartphones gave birth to a new sort of messaging platform, the most prominent one being WhatsApp, which provided new and exciting capabilities for mobile messaging over traditional chat platforms, such as MSN or Yahoo. My employer was found with a very difficult problem to solve, to adapt to the decline of the market in which they were operating. A new platform was needed, one which will effectively take on WhatsApp, in all its glory. Much like Nokia needed a strong competitor for the iPhone, and just as Nokia came up with the MeeGo platform, they also came up with a competitor for WhatsApp, however it didn’t quite work very well in either cases.

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