Is the outdated 'cultural fit' stopping life science companies from being truly innovative?

our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 17/10/2018

In a world that celebrates individuality and diversity, are life science companies missing a trick when they stick to the outdated idea of a ‘cultural fit’ when hiring? While it’s important to ensure the people you hire share the values of the company, misconceptions of what a cultural fit really is risk employer’s missing out on talent that could lead them to new heights of innovation. Often the healthiest thing a company can do is hire a few mavericks to shake things up and encourage more innovative thinking.

What is a cultural fit?

Typically, the definition of a cultural fit is a person who identifies with the values and beliefs of the company. It also extends to how well their personality and behaviours will interact with the existing team. Cultural fit should focus on whether the individual’s values are aligned with the core values of the company. Before measuring a candidate’s cultural fit, an organization should first define and articulate its values, goals and practices, and integrate these into its hiring process. Luckily, in the life science industry, professionals are already united by their vocation to save and improve people’s lives. They inherently share similar values and work towards the same goals. 

However, while shared values and beliefs are essential in determining whether the candidate will integrate well, it's important to avoid putting too much focus on whether candidates tick certain ‘culture fit’ boxes during their interview. A person’s suitability cannot always be assessed through a set of generic ‘fit’ questions, and  pigeonholing them into certain ‘types’ can cause employers to overlook the potential of their individual offering. The meaning of cultural fit, therefore, cannot always be fixed, as there is no set formula to determine whether someone will thrive at the company.

Some hiring managers fall into the trap of employing people who reflect their own values, personality and set of behaviours and end up hiring the same type of employee over and over again. This results in a team that thinks and behaves very similarly but is at risk of becoming insular and slow to adopting fresh ideas and outlooks. This is one of the biggest threats to innovation at a company.

When defining and modelling culture at GSK, Emma Walmsley, the pharma giant’s CEO commented that “the most important job is the people that you appoint. That is absolutely the sine qua non.” Her comment suggests that the company culture is a sum of all its parts, rather than people being hired as a result of their conformity to a pre-defined cultural ideal.

Diversity = innovation

In the life science industry, where innovation is essential to success, companies must do everything in their power to secure not only highly skilled talent but those who will offer new ideas and a fresh perspective. Innovation at a life science company does not only happen in the lab. It should be happening across the business, with all employees of all levels working to create new and better ways to deliver healthcare to patients. Therefore, continuous transformation is a life science company’s most valuable tool in staying ahead of the curve, and building a diverse workforce is the key.

This can be achieved by keeping in mind that a healthy mix of personalities, nationalities, ages and personal working styles leads to a robust and inventive workforce. During interviews, hiring managers would benefit from taking a more holistic approach by assessing a person on their performance throughout the entire interviewing process. Often a candidate may not immediately conform to a cultural fit template from the outset, but some well-thought-out questions could help employers probe beneath the surface and uncover a gem.

Every once in a while, someone will come along and offer a different outlook that may challenge the way things are done at the company. Roche’s CEO, Severin Roche, is adamant that encouraging this type of thinking leads to scientific success, “we need to be open to new ideas, and to have the courage to take risks and challenge commonly-held views once in a while… Breakthrough innovation is often going against the common opinion.” Instead of encouraging this sort of thinking, hiring employees according to restrictive cultural fit norms could be hampering the future innovation of life science companies.

Perhaps all life science companies would benefit from following the example of the industry’s most forward-thinking leaders as they dispel the ‘cultural fit’ in favour of diversity and forward thinking. 

For more advice on interviewing, check out ProClinical's Employer Advice blog. Here, you'll find information and advice on topics like interviewing, employee engagement and various HR issues. To speak to a specialist about your company's recruitment process, contact us today!

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