Do you feel that you “click” with your co-workers? Or do you unintentionally act “in sync” when working on a project together? If so, then you and your employer might be reaping the benefits of cultural alignment. Employees at organizations with high cultural alignment are more productive and less likely to leave. Employers that measure cultural alignment and incorporate those measurements into their hiring process will enjoy a higher Quality of Hire (with all the advantages that brings).
Cultural alignment (also called “culture add”) is not just an inconsequential feeling; it’s been the topic of substantial empirical research. The world knows a lot about cultural alignment (such as how to define, measure, and improve it) thanks to over 40 years of study in organizational psychology. This impressive body of research (conducted by Ph.D.-trained scientists in university settings) has methodologically examined everything that HR and People leaders need to know about cultural alignment.
Here’s what that academic literature (and many PhD dissertations, including my own) tells us about what cultural alignment is, why it matters and how to measure it, in a nutshell.
What is Cultural Alignment?
Cultural alignment is defined as the degree to which an individual’s values match the values of the organization. For instance, imagine an organization has a culture defined by collaboration, taking risks, and giving direct feedback. An employee that also values collaboration, taking risks, and giving direct feedback has high cultural alignment while an employee that values self-reliance, predictability, and aversion to direct feedback has low cultural alignment.
Cultural alignment can be achieved through either recruiting and selecting new employees that organically align with the values of the organization or by socializing new employees to adopt the organization’s values. Research suggests that it is a lot easier for organizations to recruit and select for cultural alignment instead of socializing employees to match the organization’s values. That’s why including cultural alignment measurements in the hiring process can produce significant benefits.
Why is Cultural Alignment Important?
When employees are culturally aligned, there are immediate psychological benefits that influence day-to-day interactions with co-workers. Research by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed that cultural alignment leads co-workers to:
- Communicate more effectively. When co-workers share the same values, there is a reduced chance of them misunderstanding each other.
- Predict each other’s behavior. Co-workers who hold shared values have similar motives and goals, promoting confidence in how others will act.
- Like each other more. People like others who are similar to ourselves, giving credence to the statement that ‘birds of a feather flock together.’ Because co-workers with aligned values are more similar, they like each other more.
- Feel more trust in the team. Because value alignment leads co-workers to agree what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in a given situation, employees feel more trust that their co-workers will have their back when needed.
All of these day-to-day psychological benefits of value alignment – communication, predictability, liking, trust – lead to better outcomes that HR and People leaders care about. Research of over 172 distinct employee datasets found that when employees’ values are aligned with their organizations’, they perform better and are less likely to leave their roles.
Thus, when organizations hire for value alignment, they hire more effective performers, resulting in a higher Quality of Hire score.
How is Cultural Alignment Measured with Searchlight?
So, how can organizations measure cultural alignment and factor it into hiring decisions? Jennifer Chatman, my Ph.D. advisor, founded the field of cultural alignment in organizational psychology research. Her dissertation (in 1989!) established that the majority of organizational culture values can be deduced (or simplified) into six fundamental dimensions:
Innovative vs. Structured: Is the applicant willing to experiment, move fast, and take risks, or do they tend to prefer predictable working conditions, following rules, and being careful?
Conflict Forward vs. Conflict Preventative: Does the applicant confront conflict directly or do they prefer to avoid conflict?
Collaborative vs. Self-Reliant: Does the applicant work in collaboration with others and exhibit a team orientation, or does the applicant prefer to work alone and exhibit a competitive orientation?
Results-Oriented vs. Supportive: Does the applicant favor working for an organization with high expectations of performance and achievement, or do they favor working for an organization that offers security of employment and aims to maximize employee wellbeing?
Customer-Oriented vs. Self-Oriented: Does the applicant prefer work that benefits customers or work that is enjoyable or intrinsically rewarding for the self?
Attention to Detail
Detail Oriented vs. Vision-Oriented: Does the applicant pay attention to details or is the applicant a “big picture” thinker?
At Searchlight, we lean into the research and measure an individual’s culture alignment by focusing on these six dimensions. Specifically, we ask the individual and their prior managers and colleagues to answer a series of questions that rate the individual on each dimension.
We measure each of these cultural dimensions with a slider question, such that an applicant is rated as either high or low on the dimension. For instance, to measure Innovative vs. Structured, we present the following question:
We then compare the applicants’ culture profile with the organizations’ culture profile. The overlap between the applicants’ and organizations’ culture profile determines alignment.
We’ve partnered with clients to conduct our own scientific research to validate this method of measuring culture alignment. We found that our assessment of value alignment has no adverse impact and is both valid and reliable (two principles that indicate a high-quality assessment).
Because cultural alignment can affect Quality of Hire, Searchlight’s cultural alignment assessment enables organizations to reduce mishires and select job applicants more likely to become happy, engaged, high-performing employees.