Think Company Culture Doesn't Matter? Think Again

Last Updated Mar 5, 2010 9:14 AM EST

How important is company culture?

With the unemployment rate above 10 percent, hiring managers are in the fortunate position of having numerous qualified people to choose from. So, instead of basing their decisions on who can actually do the job, they have the luxury of considering company culture. How important is company culture? Let me tell you a little story.

Last week, the area I live in celebrated Fasnacht. This involves parades and festivals and flour soup (really). One friend warned me against attending one of the many parades. "It's sooo dangerous," she said. "They throw candy, and it could hit your children in the head!"

Now, leaving aside the fact that my children would consider being whacked in the face with candy a good thing, I was surprised she didn't mention the other dangerous parade of the week: Chienbaese. What's that? It's also a parade, but instead of throwing candy at the crowd, people carry huge torches and pull flaming wagons through the streets. Oh, and the streets are absolutely covered in confetti and, yes, there is alcohol involved. (Hopefully just in the spectators.)

So, let's say that Candy Mom applies for a job on the Flaming Fire Parade Committee. She's organized other parades. She has phenomenal project management skills. She's personable. She's got degrees from all the right schools. And she is absolutely the wrong person for the job.

Her culture dictates that something as innocuous as candy flying through the air is dangerous. No matter how good her skills are, she'd be in a constant battle with the people who want the flames to go higher.

On paper, she would be the perfect person to organize the parade. In reality, the organizers would be better off hiring someone with no experience who believed in lighting things on fire. Think about this the next time you apply for a job. Are you really behind the mission of setting things on fire? And if you're a manager, think about the fit before you make the offer. Otherwise, you may never be able to light anything on fire ever again.

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    Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate Human Resources. She's hired, fired, and analyzed the numbers for several major companies. She founded the Carnival of HR, a bi-weekly gathering of HR blogs, and her writings have been used in HR certification and management training courses across the country.

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