New better world after coronavirus COVID-19

Redefining “Culture Fit” with Setting in Mind

Rachel Stewart Johnson, Ph.D.

Head of L&D | Psychologist | Driven by communications about human behavior in Work

It’s known in hiring that “culture fit” can speak to alignment on values, strategy, and effective team-building. But as we move toward wider availability of the COVID-19 vaccines and businesses reopening, it’s a good idea to revisit your approach.

Start by focusing on a core concept within the broader culture-fit metric: “setting fit.”

In other words, we don’t want to simply find the right person for a company as a whole, but the right person in the right place, performing best-fit daily tasks on a schedule that’s a great match for them.

The Big Five personality framework provides a streamlined route to insights. The five dimensions of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Emotional Stability can all inform decisions about not just the who, but the where, what, and how.

What is your personality?

Here are some principles to explore as you hire and develop employees with Person-Setting fit in mind:


Where: Person-Setting Fit incorporates the physical spaces work is done

Some individuals do well working from home, content with their work and home lives occupying the same spaces. While the remote-work model has displaced the traditional offices-and-cubicles setting long term, the fact remains that this approach is not well-suited to everyone. Therefore, consider how personality data can provide guidance when hiring for work-from-home roles.

Here are some examples. Those with lower Conscientiousness may need guideposts to self-monitor their productivity or be made aware of clear expectations for time spent on tasks. Those with lower Agreeableness may thrive in the self-focused home office, away from the impact of others’ needs or moods, but may need reminders to stay positively connected to others on their team. Traitify’s Remote Work Guide provides additional insights.

Architect and engineer discussing on construction site with plan

What about in-person work?

When hiring for roles that are spent in-person in traditional work settings, a candidate’s suitability for frequent social interactions, exposure to the ups and downs of others, and tolerance for a public at-desk experience should be a starting point. Also still important: an individual’s comfort level with varying degrees of virus-based risk. After well over a year of caution about disease spread, there are likely to be some workers, even post-vaccine, who will experience residual anxiety in closer quarters, in poorly-ventilated areas, or when someone appears sick.

Again, personality data can be a guide. Research suggests that higher Openness and higher Extraversion are associated with more risk tolerance, whereas higher Agreeableness and Conscientiousness along with lower Emotional Stability is seen more often in those who are more risk-averse.


What: Person-Setting Fit includes the tasks we spend time on

When we think about person-setting fit, it’s important to also consider the role an individual plays within a given setting. The same person in the same workplace may perform at different levels depending on the task at hand. In other words, the “what” makes a big difference.

An example can portray how personality data is informative in gauging this fit. “Tania,” known for being outgoing and enjoying laughs with friends, is hired by an audiovisual rental and setup company. Individuals like Tania who are high in Extraversion tend to approach the workplace with a high energy level. They often want to engage with others, experiment, and approach risks without hesitation.

Tania holds phone between ear and shoulder takes notes while working

Tania is first given a role testing audio equipment. Her work is hands-on, and she enjoys setting her own pace, but she’s alone and silent most of the day. She finds that her shifts drag on, and she checks the time frequently. Imagine if Tania is instead asked to take calls and help customers troubleshoot problems with their equipment. Engaged throughout the day in conversations, her warmth and sense of humor is leveraged to put customers at ease. Moreover, she herself is more fulfilled. The result: Tania performs at a high level, is happier during her workday, and provides maximum value for the company.


How: Person-Setting Fit includes structure of the work week

While the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic drove organizations to shift to a fully remote workforce, the question of what work will look like over the long term remains unsettled. Interest has been high in creating a permanent “hybrid” approach to office life, with workers taking on a mix of in-person days and remote days. That highlights the need for weekly schedules to be created with mindfulness of personality.

Individuals who are higher in Openness are good candidates for innovation here, welcoming schedules that change from week to week or alternative settings for work, such as small-group hubs or outdoor workspaces. In contrast, those who are lower in Openness are more likely to crave a return to familiar desks and a traditional schedule.

hairdresser with mask enjoying to work again in her hair salon after lockdown is over

For hourly workers, there’s no reason why schedules can’t be customized based on personality data. High Extraversion staff members, with their often high-energy approach to work, may be well-suited to distributing weekly hours in longer shifts, or to following late-night work with early-morning work—something that may be particularly difficult for others. Those who are higher in Agreeableness may be best-suited to working during times when the most coworkers are also present, as opposed to lower-volume periods.


Creating alternative settings can expand the talent pool

Pandemic-era disruptions and the toll of COVID-19 will stay with many of us for the rest of our lives. The proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention” is especially apt as we consider how the risk-mitigation measures of 2020 may harken lasting beneficial changes. An example is the recognition that remote work can be productive while allowing for customization of the workday—and removing barriers for workers who were previously limited in the roles they could play.

Harvard Business Review reports, for example, that more organizations are now supporting neurodiversity by developing programs that seek out and support individuals with conditions like autistic spectrum disorder and ADHD. Moving away from the continuous workday in favor of a distributed, task-based approach may benefit many in this talent pool, as would permanent remote work.

Person with prosthetic leg using laptop working at home with family in background

Other innovations can enhance inclusion of other workers including parents, other caregivers, and those who live with chronic illness or disabilities. Examples might include job-sharing arrangements, flexible scheduling, and the ability to opt into remote-work on an as-needed basis.

Taking a holistic view of company culture

The pre-pandemic days saw workers quit jobs at historically high rates, a trend that clarified the need to transform hiring and employee development practices to slow turnover rates. As we move forward, it’s time to remind ourselves of this priority. While defining company culture can be elusive, we can start promoting culture-fit by creating effective matches between people and settings, helping to nail the who by also paying close attention to the where, the what, and the how.


Want to incorporate person-setting fit into your candidates and employees? Try Traitify.


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