The Importance of Cultural Fit

When you don’t fit in at your workplace, it just doesn’t feel good to be there. You might think there is something wrong with you, and try everything to make it work. An article in The Wall Street Journal on April 10, 2014, entitled “Making Sure the Boss Is the Right Fit”, states that “a poor cultural fit is the primary reason top managers fail, according to executive coaches and recruiters.”

It’s not technical skills. It’s not getting along with others. It’s finding that you don’t fit in at the workplace. A large part of cultural fit comes from the behavioral preferences of those in charge, and the values they espouse. We are motivated mostly by our top two values, and from time to time will have our third come into play. If my top two values are the bottom two of my manager or the work place I operate within, I will find myself ill-fitted and uncomfortable with the way that decisions are made. Let’s look at the six core values, according to Target Training International and the research of German philosopher Eduard Spranger, and how they play out in the day-to-day workplace.

  1. Theoretical. Often found in workplaces that value learning, this is the smart person’s value. People with a high Theoretical love to learn. They may seek advanced degrees, or want to research something before they understand and act on it. High Theoreticals think of the world as a large schoolhouse where there is always something new to learn – be it from watching the Discovery Channel, reading several books at once or taking new classes.
  2. Social. Often found in not-for-profits or workplaces that value doing the right thing by customers or clients, this is the “do good” value. People who are highly Social are motivated to do the right thing by others, even at cost to themselves. They believe they are here to take care of others. High Socials want decisions that take into account a positive impact on others.
  3. Utilitarian. Often found in workplaces that value ROI (return on investment). People with the high Utilitarian value seek efficiency. If they are going to invest resources such as time or money, they want to see a return on that investment.
  4. Individualistic. People high on this scale care about their name and their reputation. It is also a strong leadership drive. Individualistic people may want to found a company and put their name on the door. They may want to be recognized in the community for their knowledge and contributions.
  5. Aesthetic. This value cares about beauty in the world. People with this value may desire to be out in nature. They may love art, architecture or music. A workplace with high Aesthetics in power may be a beautiful environment with lovely furnishings and an aesthetically pleasing look.
  6. Traditional. Formerly called the Religious value, people who are strong here care a great deal about traditional values typically aligned with their religion. A workplace high in this value may have religious meetings during the workday, or put a strong emphasis on family time and have family outings as part of the working-together process.

Values are not “right” or “wrong,” however when a person is a misfit in the workplace, it can be very uncomfortable to go to work. If a high Social value employee worked for a boss, or for leaders, for example who were highly Individualistic and had no Social value, that employee may experience the leaders as “mean” and “uncaring.” The employee, however, could be perceived as a “bleeding heart” or a “softie.”

When our values are not in alignment, we typically don’t view the difference as positive. In fact, for many people values run so deeply that they cannot function in an environment where their values are not present or are trampled upon.

It’s important to understand your own values and to examine whether your workplace and your boss supports them. For long-term success, it’s important that you and your workplace are in sync with one another.