Recognising that there’s a cultural mismatch between you and a business/team is vital, and the earlier you manage it the better…

As a specialist in the recruitment of Senior Reward professionals I speak with Group Reward Directors, and their direct reports, on a daily basis, and have done so now for the last twenty years. While I have a very developed a strong grasp of the technical requirements of the roles I recruit, the most complicated element to get right is always ‘fit’.

I’ve written and spoken before on the difficulty of identifying culture. The lack of universally accepted vocabulary to describe it and its inherent subjectivity are but two obstacles to navigate which frankly makes offering advice to individuals on assessing cultural fit complicated, open to bias, fundamentally difficult and often inaccurate. That said it is vitally important as cultural fit has major implications for both EMPLOYEE or EMPLOYER when it is absent:

From the employEE perspective, a mismatch can be uncomfortable at best and potentially hugely damaging. It hampers your ability to get things done, it forces you to modify your behaviours and the way you naturally operate, and this can lead to consequences. It can detrimentally affect your output, the very things by which you are to be judged and on which your pay levels, career progression, legitimacy and future value are based.

More damaging still it can have a detrimental effect on how you see yourself; impacting self-esteem and confidence. This doesn’t happen over-night and it is not necessarily overt, which is in itself a bigger issue as it tends to e recognised only with hindsight, when the damage is done. Self-doubt follows which impacts the confidence to put yourself forward to new challenges which over time can become career defining.

From the employER point of view, getting the cultural fit wrong becomes more significant a problem as the employees move up the seniority scale. The more experienced we are as a professional the more we believe – because we have evidence – that the way we do things is correct or, at least, works. We naturally become resistant to change, less open to challenge; “it’s not me, it’s you” and when that is the mentality of a figure in authority, business suffers. We see dysfunctional turnover, focus being shifted to navigate a tumultuous politically charged environment, internal division leading to a negative impact on performance.

For Reward and HR in general that is a major concern, a discipline that is forever fighting a battle for credibility and trust, needs to avoid such issues which can potentially  delegitimise the function, hamper efficiency and efficacy and fulfilling the prophecy of the naysayers and as alluded to above, quite often the damage is done before the cause can be identified.

This is a vast and nuanced topic worthy of much greater analysis then I can offer here, but if I can stop there and offer some advice (notwithstanding my assertion earlier that such advice is fraught with difficulty), it is that the best judge of a cultural fit is yourself – not your friend who also works there, your ex-colleague who went there and hated it, your partner whose sister is highly successful or cousin who was asked to leave…and certainly not anonymous online commentators. See for yourself, trust your instincts and act on them, they know you best.