Why you need to recruit for cultural fit

If a team member doesn’t fit your club’s culture, they will cause you continual problems. By investing the effort to recruit for cultural fit, your business will reap dividends.

Throughout my group fitness management career I have been asked countless times how I have achieved such a high team member retention rate, particularly as most of my group exercise instructors are contractors who are full or part time workers with another career, full or part time students or full time parents. For most group exercise instructors this is their second job, so how do you cultivate a team who are loyal, dedicated, skilled and a good fit with your company culture, when teaching fitness takes a secondary focus to other priorities in their lives?

The glue that holds an organisation together

Cultural fit is the likelihood of someone comfortably sharing, or being able to adapt to, your company vision, core values, beliefs, attitudes and the collective behaviours that make up your club culture. If you don’t articulate this clearly at the recruitment stage, how can you expect those you get onboard to be a cultural fit with your company?

In July 2015 Katie Bouton published an article in the Harvard Business Review titled ‘Recruiting for Cultural Fit’. Bouton is founder and president of Koya Leadership Partners, an executive search firm committed to recruiting and retaining exceptionally talented and diverse professionals who can make a lasting impact.

In the article Bouton writes: ‘Culture fit is the glue that holds an organisation together. That’s why it’s a key trait to look for when recruiting. The result of poor culture fit due to turnover can cost an organisation between 50-60 per cent of the person’s annual salary, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). But before the hiring team starts measuring candidates’ culture fit, they need to be able to define and articulate the organisation’s culture – its values, goals, and practices — and then weave this understanding into the hiring process.’

The impact of bad hiring choices

Unless your team members are the right fit for the culture of your organisation, you will continually have issues with that person, which will create more work for you, as their leader/manager. One bad fit in a team can take up more of your time than the rest of the team put together. One toxic person can corrupt other team members, and club members, generating ill feeling that can spread and cause a lot of damage. Managing the fallout and the repercussions, and initiating appropriate follow-up action can be a hugely time-consuming exercise.

Having the wrong people in your business can also be a huge financial cost. According to a 2012 poll conducted by CareerBuilder, 41 per cent of participating companies had experienced a cost of at least $25,000 per bad hire, while 24 per cent had incurred costs of $50,000 for a bad hire. This cost includes loss of productivity and time, cost to recruit and train a new employee, and employee morale being affected. No matter how established your organisation, bad hires negatively affect it.

Another interesting statistic from the poll showed that 67 per cent of employees deemed by the employers to be ‘bad hires’ were considered so due to a lack of competency (lack job fit), while 60 per cent did not work well with other employees (lack cultural fit). This data clearly demonstrates the importance of hiring based on both job fit (skills) and culture fit.

How to recruit for cultural fit

‘Hire hard and manage easy’ is a catchphrase that I live by. Take your time in the hiring phase. Be tough, ask for a lot and push your candidate a little. You need to find out what they are like under pressure. You need to know how they will perform ‘when push comes to shove’ in a given situation. You are also looking for a demonstration of their commitment to the role and to the workplace culture. A team recruited for fit and skillset will be easy to manage.

So how do you recruit for fit? Right from the outset I look for a high level of skill – well above the bare minimal requirements that might otherwise be asked of group exercise instructors. I require them to have Cert III and preferably Cert IV as well. I also favour people with experience, especially team-based experience, and I call all referees. I never place a person on my team without meeting and auditioning them and verbally checking references.

Once I am satisfied that the person in question is bringing me current high level skills, I look for fit. This is almost more important than the skillset. Many people can have a particular skillset, but not all of those people will be the right fit for your current team and your organisation. Many skills can be learnt or enhanced on the job, whereas cultural fit needs to be clearly assessed prior to hiring the candidate. Do they have inherent cultural fit with your facility, or can they demonstrate that they have the capacity and ability to adapt and become a good fit with your club culture?

Hiring for cultural fit doesn’t mean hiring people who are all the same. I look for an eclectic mix of personalities and skillsets in my team, but everyone needs to have cultural fit.

At interview stage, if you use the correct line of questioning, those with cultural fit will naturally rise to the top of the pack, and those without won’t. For example, if your club values collaboration, question your candidates about how they prefer to work. Someone who is quite autonomous or prefers to work individually will not have a strong cultural fit.

One of the key problems in the fitness industry, and in particular with the hiring of casual group exercise instructors, is that many people don’t interview or audition, and some don’t even ask for a CV or check references. We need to evolve as an industry and put some standard practices in place with regards hiring all staff – including contractors, casuals, part time and full time staff.

If you assess cultural fit throughout the recruitment process, you will hire professionals who flourish in their new roles, drive long-term growth and success for your organisation, and ultimately save you time and money. A club with a strong culture will aim to recruit for fit and train for skills on the understanding that matching the values and vision of the employer and the employee is the foundation for growth and success in their business.

Practical tips to interview for cultural fit

  1. Clearly explain ‘a day on the job’ to your applicants in a way that clarifies the values and culture of your organisation.
  2. Make sure that everything you ask in the interview is relevant, and if you ask the interviewee to do anything practical at the recruitment stage then make it relevant to what they will actually be doing on the job. Update and refine this process as your needs or business culture evolve.
  3. Use behaviour-based questions to ascertain competencies that relate to cultural fit.
  4. Don’t be afraid to deviate from the standard/pre-prepared interview questions. Be responsive to the candidate in front of you in order to find out what you need to know.
  5. Use your emotional intelligence to read your applicant’s responses, body language, tone and manner.
  6. Discover their ‘why’. Why do they want this role? Are they going to grow and evolve with your business? Are they going to go the extra mile? If so, why?
  7. Never assume. Clarify what they mean and why they are giving you a particular answer.

Your club culture has the power to make your staff and your members happy to come to your facility every day, and to keep coming back year on year. It is what will make them recommend your club to their friends, colleagues and acquaintances. It is what will build your business and grow your membership base. Do not underestimate the importance of club culture and hiring for cultural fit.


Leisl Klaebe is Group Exercise Coordinator at Virgin Active Norwest, where she coordinates over 220 classes a week and a team of 70 group exercise instructors. Leisl will facilitate Australia’s new GFM Roundtable on 7 October. For details call 02 9484 5501.