Company culture is not fixed, something set in stone or architected from on-high. It depends more on how fast your company is growing, whether the right people are assigned to the right roles and if the people, the managers and culture are flexible enough to adapt to changing business conditions.

People underperform whenever the work they are doing doesn’t align with their motivating needs, if they have a conflict with who manages them or how they’re managed, and if the work they’re doing is out of sync with some grander company purpose. This all impacts their attitude and their “cultural fitness.”

When it comes to hiring, rather than filter people on cultural fit, filter them on job fit first. Then make sure they can work with the hiring manager and with all sorts of different people in all types of situations. If you get these parts right your culture will be just fine. As a result you’ll not only have a much more diverse workforce, but a more adaptable culture as well.

Over the years I’ve found a simple way to get most of these fit issues right. It starts by first recognizing there are only four types of jobs and these map to different stages in a company’s growth. The graphic highlights this concept. As you read the descriptions below recognize that all of these roles are required at every phase of a company’s growth but this mix changes over time along with the company culture.

The Four Basic Work Types and Their Impact on Cultural Fit

Thinkers: These people are the idea generators, strategists, inventors and creative types. They’re at the front-end of the growth curve and their work covers new products, new business ideas, and different ways of doing everyday things. Sometimes they get in the way once the company or projects begin to grow but these people are essential whenever a company needs to rethink how it does anything. From a cultural fit standpoint these people might not think, look or act like everyone else but that’s a good thing since the best Thinkers think out the box. So unless you want to continue building the same boxes, you’ll need to add some Thinkers to your team.

Builders: These people convert ideas from the Thinker into reality. Entrepreneurs, project managers, and turn-around executives are typical jobs that emphasize the Builder component. They thrive in rapid change situations, make decisions with incomplete information and can create some level of order out of chaos. They feel strangled in maturing organizations. Again, most of these people don’t easily fit the cultural norms, but excluding them ensures anything that needs to be built from scratch or rebuilt won’t be built as rapidly or as well as it could.

Improvers: These are the people who take an existing project, process or team, organize it and make it better. They’re more process focused than the Builders and thrive in maturing organizations. They build teams, help develop people, add organizational structure, and implement major and minor change. In large companies they need to do all of this despite heavy resistance. In fast-growing companies they build the bridges that allow the company to reach the next plateau. From a cultural fit standpoint, they’re the people who need to be able to deal with everyone, manage anyone and keep an even keel despite the turbulence. While you want plenty of Improvers in your company, if you have too many, change will be plodding as they focus more on getting agreement rather than making things happen.

Producers: These are the people who execute a repeatable process, ensuring quality and delivery. This can range from handling transactional business activities to more complex technical and skills-intensive tasks like auditing the performance of a big system, running a process-driven department, designing and testing products or analyzing the monthly financial results. While every company needs Producers, when they’re misplaced or overtake an organization, they impede progress and prevent change. Regardless, excluding Producers from consideration for cultural reasons is equivalent to saying, “We don’t care about great process or exceptional quality.”

Work Type Balance is the Key to Building Teams and Creating a Dynamic Culture

Building a great culture starts by building a great team. But the team building needs to come before the cultural fitting. Most people are a blend of all four work types with one or two usually dominant. As companies grow and change over time, it’s important to get the collective balance right. This way the actual culture changes and morphs as necessary to meet changing business conditions. Unfortunately this work type balance is rarely considered as new people are hired and others reassigned. Building and growing a successful company is hard work and every hiring decision is critical. Using work types as part of the selection process can make the task a little easier and a lot more logical.


Lou Adler (@LouA) is the CEO of The Adler Group, a consulting and training firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring. He's also a regular columnist for Inc. Magazine and BusinessInsider. His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013), provides hands-on advice for job-seekers, hiring managers and recruiters on how to find the best job and hire the best people. His new video program provides job seekers inside secrets on what it takes to get a job in the hidden job market.