The Importance of Cultural Fit

One of my clients contacted me in a state of despair because she was plagued with fatigue and was struggling to get out of bed for work.  The source of my client’s unhappiness wasn’t obvious from the start and it took some digging to discover the root of the problem. My client said she really enjoyed her job and felt it was a good fit. We then moved on to her manager. She said he supported her and was a strong advocate for her. From what my client shared, I really believed her manager had her best interests in mind and viewed her as a valuable member of the team. I scratched my head wondering what was going on with my client at work. There was something related to work that was draining my client’s energy.

My client then made a comment that opened the door to an explanation. She said, “I feel I am too soft at work.” When I probed a bit more I learned the organization she worked for encouraged highly aggressive, sometimes ruthless behavior. My client exuded a quiet confidence and really struggled with the overt bull dog behavior her coworkers exhibited on a daily basis. In order to try and “fit” with the culture of her company, my client was exhausting herself by trying to be someone she wasn’t. When I suggested that the company she worked for wasn’t a cultural fit, the light bulb went off. After two years of thinking something was wrong with her, mainly that she was “too soft,” she realized there may be another company where she could be successful by showing up as nothing but herself.

A few weeks later I had another session with this client and I Iearned she received an offer from a competitor. I asked her how she felt during the interview process. She said, “I felt relaxed and completely comfortable. In two years with my current employer, I have never felt that way.” Leaving one of the top companies in the world wasn’t easy for my client. On one hand she had attached some of her self-worth to working for such a well-known company. On the other hand, her self-worth was slowly deteriorating because she wasn’t being true to her most authentic self. My client accepted the offer from the competitor because she knew her health would continue to suffer if she stayed in her current job.

In one of my favorite books on leadership, True North by Bill George, Amgen’s current CEO, Kevin Sharer, is used as an example of someone who realized the importance of cultural fit. When Sharer worked for MCI, a company that proved not to be a cultural fit, he said the cultural was, “…mean-spirited and at your throat. It was eating me up as I was becoming less effective and less committed to the company. If your values are not consistent with the people you’re working with, you should not be there.” My client learned the same lesson as Sharer and as a result, she made a much needed change.

I strongly believe you should grow in a job and work on your weaknesses; however, I also strongly believe you shouldn’t have to change the core of who you are in order to fit with a company’s culture. A valuable lesson I have learned is that your most authentic self at work often leads to your most successful self at work.

Colleen Canney is a Career, Life, and Wellness Coach based in Seattle, WA. She provides 1:1 coaching to clients around the US and also provides HR Consulting/Business Coaching to organizations. For more information on Colleen, please visit her website at or contact her directly at


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