Managerial Fit is More Important than Cultural Fit

There is something much more insidious than a bad cultural fit – a bad managerial fit.

As you read the descriptions that follow, you’ll quickly realize that it doesn’t take much effort to determine your own managerial style and your boss’. This is important because if there is a style mismatch your, your team’s and your boss’ performance will suffer.

Why You Shouldn’t Worry About Cultural Fit Until You’re Ready to Make an Offer

In a recent post I demonstrated that culture is largely defined by external business and economic circumstances. It is not something the Utopians in HR hope it is. I used the supposed cultural challenge problems at Amazon to prove the case that the company doesn’t have a culture problem; it has a hiring problem. I also made the case that if you hire people who don’t fit within the company’s actual culture, they will underperform. But underlying this is something far more important: the relation each employee has with his or her manager.

Good managers have the ability to insulate their teams from the typical business pressures found in most companies. Weak managers – including those who shouldn’t be managers – make the situation worse. This is at the root cause of Amazon’s culture problem. But there is another powerful component of this manager and subordinate relationship. I call it managerial fit. It relates to the manager’s management style and how the team member wants and needs to be managed. (This is variation of Hersey and Blanchard's Situational Leadershipmodel.)

The Concept of Managerial Fit

Some managers delegate everything and control little and others delegate little and control everything. Some people working for these managers want to be fully responsible for the results and others want and need more guidance, coaching, direction and support. If you don’t get the managerial fit part right it doesn’t matter if the candidate is technically superb, a great high-level cultural fit and a strong team player. The person will underperform, be dissatisfied and become disengaged quickly.

Determining Your Management Style

From loosey-goosey to over-supervising here’s a quick description of the major management styles.

Hands-off. Gives little direction or support. Expects the person to figure out what to do and then do it. Doesn’t have time to direct. Will review status irregularly. People working for this type of manager need to be self-directed, totally independent, confident in their approach and comfortable with little support and less feedback.

Delegator. Good at delegating results and expects regular feedback. Will help plan the process and obtain the needed resources. Will run interference to overcome roadblocks and will support the person in critical situations. However, expects the person to be able to achieve the results with minimal support. People working for this type of manager need to be good at contingency planning, willing to check in regularly regarding progress and be able to anticipate and discuss options for handling unforseen problems.

Coach. Willing to hire for potential over experience. Wants to provide advice and act as a mentor. Will help plan the work and work the plan on a very regular basis. People working for this type of manager need to be willing to have their progress checked regularly and be open to feedback on how they perform their work.

Trainer. Expects the person to do the work in a certain fashion and will train the person to do it. Will wean the person from direct support but will monitor progress and performance often with a checklist-like approach. People working for this type of manager need to be able to work the process in a pre-structured fashion making few changes from the manager-imposed norms.

Supervisor. Controls the process in robot-like fashion to ensure consistency and efficiency. The system allows little deviation from accepted company practices. People working for this type of person need to be comfortable working in a very structured and typically time-sensitive environment. This becomes a problem when the structure is not appropriate, necessary or correct.

Micro Manager. This is a serious problem when the underlying circumstances don’t require every aspect of the process to be managed and controlled. Very few people can work successfully under these circumstances.

Manager styles can range from too loose to overly tight. Most managers have a mix of one or two of the styles described above. If you’re a manager, have your team help you figure out your dominant style and range. This will be helpful as you hire new people in your group. Recognize that most subordinates can work within a range of two to three of these styles but performance suffers when there is an obvious mismatch.

When I ask candidates to describe their major accomplishments and major screw-ups I always ask about their manager’s style at the time. The objective is to determine how flexible the person is in working with different managers and if the manager’s style is an underlying part of the person’s success or failure.

As far as I’m concerned worrying about cultural fit is misguided since most fit problems are caused by a clash of styles between the hiring manager and the subordinate. If you get this part right there will not be a cultural fit problem.