So much has been written about culture—changing it, maintaining it, and hiring against it. The simple fact is, organizations will find widespread success when there is a focus on hiring executives whose beliefs and behavior systems are congruent with their culture. As an executive recruiter, I am often asked about the assessment process and its role in determining fit to culture. Toward that end, we suggest to our clients that they first gain consensus around and then clearly articulate “what matters most” when thinking about the human component of the right fit. The answers are often very telling.

The best thing an organization can do is to be itself during the recruiting process. Be honest about who you are as an organization and what success looks like for a new executive. The answer almost always involves soft skills (e.g. this person will have used his/her interpersonal skills to gain the trust of their team) versus hard skills (e.g. this person will have used his/her experience to impact our bottom line). Part of the reason that this is true is that mastering the soft skills inevitably leads to achievement of the tangible duties. Zappo’s Chief Executive Officer, Tony Hseih, has been quoted as saying that he would not consider hiring stellar candidates if they didn’t align with the company’s culture. As most of you know, Zappo’s is one of the most successful companies in America when it comes to their retention of top talent and world class service delivery model, executed by their valued employees.

Ultimately, it is important for organizations to find a happy medium between hiring candidates who possess top-tier talent and those who will truly mesh with—and even improve—your culture.

So, instead of focusing on whether potential employees are going to conform to your company’s culture, focus instead on determining whether they are:

  • Likely to succeed when working with your employees;
  • Likely to support or change your company’s values in a positive way.

Ensuring a strong cultural fit also requires looking for people who are excited about tackling new challenges and adapting to the changes that often appear through the normal course of doing the work.

Finally, remember that there is not a “one size fits all” approach to mastering this. You have to be willing to test different strategies, refine your approach, and continue to evaluate your assessment process. It has been my experience that the most successful companies place the assessment of core values on the same level with a review of education and experience.