Each company has a personality; it has an energy about it that you can generally describe. There are often quirky characteristics that may come about due to the industry it is in, team gender split, size, or even the owners personality and what they impose on the business. In a small to medium business you often can’t get away from this, as the owner is larger than life, compared to a large business.

This ‘personality’ or culture is a result of the combination of company’s vision, values, working language, accepted behaviour, norms and personality. The bottom line is if a new team member is not aligned with the way of ‘doing things’ then that can impact morale and performance, more so in a smaller business.

Values are very much part of cultural fit but there are ways a small to medium business can assess cultural fit, even if you have no defined company values. Below is a list of questions to ask yourself. Write down your thoughts, as you will start to see common areas.

1. What principles is the company built on? How do these translate into actions?
2. Ask your team what do they think the company stands for? Is their response aligned to your vision?
3. How do you expect your staff to behave? These are likely a reflection of your own values.
4. Ask your staff to describe the personality of the company, are there any characteristics that would define it? Would people need specific traits to fit? For example, if it is a ‘tough industry‘ you may recognise that all staff need to be ‘resilient’.
5. As the business owner do you bring any quirkiness or behaviour traits that impact on the day-to-day work life of your team? I once had a boss who was OCD this meant that our desks had to be completely cleared at the end of every day, I left my post-it notes stuck to the computer and next morning found even these were removed.
6. Are there key people at the company whose behaviours also contribute to the environment?
7. What does success look like at your company? What behaviours do your top performers share? What ‘behaviours’ does a person have to have to be successful there, irrespective of the role they hold? Many small businesses need their staff to be able to turn their hand to anything asked of them, therefore they need to be adaptable
8. Is there anything about your industry or size that creates a unique environment?
9. Given your business goals are there any new behaviours you need in the business?

You will end up with two types of comments, those that describe the environment and those that describe behaviours needed to succeed in that environment. When interviewing ‘fit for environment’ and ‘behavioural fit’ are measured different ways. To assess you need to split comments into the appropriate area of ‘Behaviours’ or ‘Environment’ then:


• Group into common themes

o For instance, if you ended up with ‘proactive’, ‘self-managing’ and ‘takes ownership’, you may decide these are sufficiently similar to group together

• Come up with a word or short phrase (label) that encapsulates that group

o You may decide that ‘proactive’ covers these all

• Create a definition for each area, this ensure everyone uses the same definition when evaluating whether someone is ‘proactive’ or not

o An example may be “Proactive – Acts in advance to deal with anticipated difficulties and is self-managing in doing so taking ownership for what is needed”

• Define the behaviours needed for that area, both positive and negative, you will use these as a measure of people’s responses at interview

o For instance looking at ‘Proactiveness’, defined as a behaviour you might put ‘observes when something needs actioning and acts without prompting.
o A measure of negative behaviour may be ‘doesn’t anticipate issues and is surprised by things that should have been considered’. You can then discount candidates should their interview examples show they act this way.

• Develop interview questions that are designed to disclose candidates’ behaviour, revealing whether they would behave as you’d like. Questions should commence “Tell me about a time when…” or “Provide an example of when…” prompting for evidence of when they have behaved this way.

• Lastly, carry out behavioural interviews and take notes of examples provided.


Assessing cultural fit is about comparing someone’s preference for what is present in your environment with the polar opposite. You don’t want to be obvious in your questioning leading them to the correct answer so you wouldn’t ask ‘Do you like a small or large company and why’ as they will find reasons to like whatever you are.

Less obvious is
“Tell me when you worked in either a large or small company, what did you like or dislike about that and why?” This gives four possible responses of which two are correct, they ‘liked’ what you are or ‘disliked’ what you aren’t.

Using the above structure to build questions is especially powerful when they don’t know what your environment is like.

Another cunning way of assessing alignment for job, cultural, or values fit is asking what aspects of previous roles someone enjoyed. Then ask for the opposite. Compare their response with what’s on offer. Will there be aspects they miss or is your environment too similar to another which they disliked and left?

And then there’s team fit. Commonly when interviewing, a lot of people use intuition to decide if someone fits, asking themselves ‘does this person feel like one of us?’ However this can be discriminatory and rob you of the benefits of diversity. Plus you need to be careful not to make assumptions, if you have a young team it is presumptuous to assume that an older person won’t fit; yet they might bring needed maturity. You need distinct personalities to balance out a team and complement each other, for instance for every team of non ‘t’ crossing, non ‘i’ dotting salespeople will need a detail focused admin person to clean up the mess. You can stunt a business’s growth if everyone hired are ‘mini me’s’.

Hiring for fit over skills will ensure you have greater retention of staff and people are happier in their work. Naturally, these will impact positively on your customer.