5 Ways to Influence Employee Behavior for Cultural Fit

A new employee’s ability to contribute to the team is as much dependent on how they “fit in” as it is on their skills. Joining a new team is tough, especially one with a strong and embedded culture. A positive company culture is a huge strength for your company, but it can mean it’s a bit more intimidating for new people to join in if you’re not careful.

When hiring, look for cultural fit as well as skills—it’s not easy to foster a positive, employee-empowered atmosphere—so if you have it, you want to protect it. But no hiring process is perfect and no candidate is the perfect fit. Sometime skills aren’t a perfect match, but the candidate has a good attitude and is ready to learn. Other times, their skills may fit right with what you need, but culturally you’re not sure how they will interact with the team.

(Remember: Hiring for cultural fit, assuming someone has shown a propensity to learn the types of necessary skills, will serve you better in the long run than prioritizing skills.)

So when a new employee isn’t quite fitting in, what do you do? It’s much easier to teach someone a hard skill than to change their behavior. At work we often shy away from the interpersonal, and coaching someone to change their attitude or approach to teamwork isn’t the most comfortable process. Nonetheless, any team friction needs to be addressed immediately to give the employee and the team the best chance for success.

Here are a few things to consider when trying to influence an employee’s behavior to fit in with the team.

First, get a good start. How a new employee feels on their first days can determine whether they are able to put their best foot forward and get to know the team. Your onboarding procedures should include making the new person feel welcome, introducing them around, and ensuring they know everything they need to feel comfortable (e.g., where the bathrooms are, how to find paper and pens, where to eat). Then, set them up for success. Your onboarding procedures should also include scheduled training and team integration. Give them everything they need to succeed, and create opportunities for quick wins so they feel like a contributing member.

Second, focus on the thinking behind the behavior. Let’s say your team uses innovative collaboration tools and avoids email when possible (a good idea if you ask me). And despite several reminders, a new employee continues to send emails for things that should be discussed in the collaboration tool. Explain to them why the team aims for fewer emails and how it has benefited from the policy. People want to know why they’re being asked to do something, and explaining the benefit is more likely to move them in the right direction.

Third, recognize positive team interaction. The best reward is usually simple recognition. Once you pinpoint the behavior you want to adjust, look for opportunities to applaud that behavior in others on your team—and for the new employee, make sure to praise even the smallest shift in the right direction. Going back to our email example, if after a conversation the new employee starts a discussion in a team chat room, recognize their efforts with a simple acknowledgement. “Steve, this is a great topic for group chat. I’m glad you started this discussion here!” Encourage the team to be particularly supportive during the change period. Imagine if Steve finally started a discussion in group chat and all he got back was crickets. Now that would be demotivating.

 Fourth, be patient. Old habits die hard. Recognize small successes and look for continued progress rather than overnight transformation. Repeat the suggested behavior as needed without judgment or frustration. You may find yourself feeling irritated—put yourself in their shoes before you let this irritation inform how you handle the situation.

Fifth, measure critical team behaviors. But avoid singling someone out if you can. The team should strive to improve their measurements together. Keeping with our example, if the new employee sees that the team tracks how many team emails are sent each week, they will be much more likely to reconsider the next time they go to hit the send button.

Often the problematic behavior is the most basic of soft skills, and can be effectively changed if handled appropriately. The most important thing is to address any issues quickly and respectfully. If these mild tactics don’t do the trick, you may have to consider specialized intervention or a more direct approach—but what you can’t do is allow a new team member to compromise the culture your team has created, even if it means letting go of someone with stellar skills for the job. Your team’s culture is more important than any one member’s ability to contribute.

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