We've all run into problems when an essential person leaves an organisation, even if it is just temporary. Whether it is a CEO or a communications professional, any departure can leave a hole in a company. And filling this with a new hire often comes at a great risk, especially as the importance of the individual and need for a strong cultural fit increases.
Smaller companies especially, according to the Society of Human Resources Management, can suffer major blows to their culture in these situations. But to ensure the replacement for any major staff member goes smoothly, it is essential to understand both what culture is and why it is important.
Understanding organisational culture
If we look at Hofstede's model, then we can conceptualise culture much like we would someone's personality. Deeply held inner values inform our behaviours and the people who we should look to as role models, which are largely represented by cultural symbols (such as dress codes or office plans) and practices (formal and informal procedures and systems). But while this may offer a theoretical framework for culture, the world outside of academia tells a different story.
In 2013, Harvard Business Review published a a discussion about what organisation culture is. The writer, Michael D. Watkins, invited various company leaders to discuss what culture meant to them on LinkedIn. Unsurprisingly, there is very little consensus on what culture actually means. Here are some of the more creative and insightful definitions provided:
- "How organisations 'do things'."
- "[The] 'glue' to integrate the members of the organisation"
- "Civilisation in the workplace"
- "The organisation's immune system."
Why cultural fit is important to corporate affairs
While few could agree, there was a focus on differentiating between the "right way" of thinking or behaving and the "wrong way". This leads us to recognise that when a person's role is largely to communicate an organisation's culture to internal and/or external stakeholders, cultural understanding and fit is essential.
Founder of brand media agency KolbeCo, Lauren Kolbe, explained this link to Business News Daily.
"We can teach someone to do a job, " said Ms Kolbe, "[but] we can't teach someone to love the way we operate."
"An employee who is not aligned with the culture and is not committed to living it can wreak havoc pretty quickly, even if they bring a great deal of skill and experience to their craft."
Finding the balance between proven competency and cultural fit can prove problematic, especially if an organisation is unable to articulate what their culture really means. Without this certainty, it is impossible to assess the alignment of company values, beliefs and behaviour, and may inadvertently lead to a cultural misfit.