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Fit for the Work

For the last several weeks, I have been using these blog posts to interrogate exactly what we mean when we discuss government innovation. What does the actual work of changing how government operates look like in practice? What are the necessary elements for success? What are the risks, and, in some cases, what are the costs to the individuals attempting to make the change?

In this final blog post, I would like to dig a bit deeper into what makes someone fit for the work and what that means in the context of having a job where you are necessarily tasked with disruption.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled “The Dangers of Hiring for Cultural Fit,” defined culture fit as follows:

What it is:

—Shared enthusiasm about a company’s mission or purpose

—A common approach to working, together or individually

—A mutual understanding of how to make decisions and assess risk

What it’s not:

—A common educational, cultural or career background

—A sense of comfort and familiarity with co-workers

—Shared enjoyment of such perks as ping pong and craft beer

An interesting quote from the article about culture fit in practice is:

Hiring managers need to go deeper and figure out whether applicants are in sync with more fundamental elements of their culture, Ms. Kirsta Anderson says. Are they excited about how the company innovates, serves customers or makes a social impact? Will they mesh with the way individuals and teams at the company work, by collaborating or competing? And will they naturally make decisions the way the employer wants—individually or as a group, embracing or avoiding risk?

All of this no doubt seems on point, but what if the job is to call into question how existing policies, structures, decisions operate? In other words, what if the fit is designed to be different?

A different article in the Harvard Business Review, titled “Hiring for Culture Fit Doesn’t Have to Undermine Diversity,” doesn’t answer this question squarely but it does seek to clarify some common misconceptions about culture fit, two of which are very relevant to the question. The first is that hiring for culture fit hurts innovation.

This misconception relies on the idea that, if everyone is the same, it reduces creative thinking and therefore innovation. If people think differently, that boosts innovation. But again, people can think differently while still maintaining the organization’s overall values. A study of 346 members of 75 health care teams found that when members perceived higher value fit to their team, team leaders rated the team as being more innovative.

The next is that hiring for culture fit is an art, not a science.

You can’t determine culture fit without a proper measurement. This consists of three steps: First, you need to measure the actual values of the organization or team. This is done by measuring the values of each employee in the organization or team using a standardized value instrument. Second, because the goal is to compare the candidate’s values to those of the organization or team, the value assessment of the candidate should be done using the same standardized instrument. Third, you want to objectively compare the candidate’s value profile with that of the overall organization or team. Using algorithms can help minimize bias at this step.

The above point dovetails nicely with the point on innovation. It makes me wonder how many organizations are taking these sorts of steps to quantify what their culture is and relatedly how people may or may not fit – since having such an approach seems innovative in-of-itself.

Another article titled “Employees’​ Happiness Begins With an Inclusive Workplace Culture,” made me reflect more deeply on these questions. The most relevant portions being:

Happiness begins with belonging

Feeling understood gives people a sense of belonging. Knowing that a team respects and appreciates what makes each person different as individuals helps engage all team members. This becomes increasingly important for women, minorities and LGBTQ+ members of a team, who are typically not as well-represented on teams, especially at senior levels.

Happiness begins with being part of something bigger than yourself

When individuals feel like they are understood, they achieve a sense of belonging and connection to the larger team. When ALL team members feel a sense of belonging, they are ready to work together to achieve a collective vision and contribute to larger company goals.

Happy employees are empowered employees

Once ALL employees feel like they are understood, they can achieve a sense of belonging. This helps them feel like they are part of a team with a sense of community that is purposeful. Individuals who feel part of a team that is bought-in to each other and a collective goal, are truly empowered to innovate. Companies that can foster a culture of inclusion can fully expect to reap the benefits of a happy, engaged and empowered workforce.

Combined, these articles indicate that innovation is really only possible when there is synchronicity between employees and the employee culture AND that work must be done to accurately quantify that culture and ensure that employees feel understood, like they belong, and are empowered.

If the prerequisites aren’t in place maybe just try having a conversation and see if that helps close the gap. From the NY Times article “The Awkward but Essential Art of Office Chitchat,”

Jamie Terran, a licensed career coach in New York City, said that small talk between colleagues and supervisors builds rapport, which in turn builds trust.

“Rapport is the feeling that allows you to extend a deadline, or overlook smaller mistakes, because it makes it easy for you to remember we’re only human,” she says. “Right or wrong, building rapport through interaction with colleagues could be the thing that gets you the promotion or keeps you in the role you’re in.”

How are you thinking about culture and culture fit? If asked could you quantify your organizational culture accurately? What impacts on innovation have you seen culture and culture fit have? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Brandon L. Greene is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. He is the Manager of the Civic Design Lab in Oakland. Brandon is a graduate of Boston University Law School where he was a Public Interest Scholar and Martin Luther King Social Justice Fellow. Previously, Brandon was an Attorney and Clinical Supervisor at the East Bay Community Law Center where he created and lead the decriminalization of poverty clinic. Brandon’s article Depraved Necessities: Prison Privatization, Educational Attainment and the Path to Profit was published in 2013 by SRBLSA Law Journal. His forthcoming articles will be published in the Harvard Blackletter Law Journal and the Berkeley Criminal Law Journal. Twitter: @brandonlgreene. You can read his posts here.

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