Culture fit: A Business Model Perspective

The culture fit model represents a social construct that is used to evaluate whether a given ‘input’ will be able to meet performance specifications and responsibilities within a specific culture. The way in which these models have been implemented, and defined, have changed over time as new insights, opportunities, and risks are realized. The challenge is that not all

Business Model Fit influences how tools, strategies, processes, and other inputs & outputs are evaluated.

changes are adaptive or substantial; some merely represent past practices but with a new logic. In these instances the company’s ability to adapt to change (with new tools, training, and modifications to the business model) is constrained.

The outcomes supported by the culture fit ‘model’ are greatly determined by the context. This means culture fit in one context may mean something different in another context. The values may not be realized by everyone and the results can be quite selective, supporting and reinforcing homogeneity, access, and/or the status quo. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the discontinuous application of the culture fit model across the ‘citizen journey map.’

Inconsistencies concerning the application of the model surface throughout the ‘journey map’ raising the question of coherence, leadership, and commitment to innovation but also surface opportunities for improvement or identifying when a pivot is required.

Resolving these inconsistencies becomes an opportunity to strengthen the culture fit model and to align its implementation with its original intent: To create an aligned business culture and business model that continues to deliver value for its customers.

The question then becomes how alignment is achieved, what culture is being reinforced, and what values are being delivered?

The answers create a quasi socio-technical phase gate that determines what inputs area available:
  • Tools,
  • Processes,
  • Policies,
  • Values, and
  • Technical assets

These inputs contribute to the structure, priorities, and outputs received by the stakeholders. Constraints introduced as inputs directly influence the solutions that are later made available to stakeholders.

How culture fit is applied and evaluated determines the societal value created through its implementation. Constraints that limit the implementation of the culture fit model influence what opportunities are available later on (as well as the threats and weaknesses that need to be managed).


The tools, processes, and values that guide the use of the culture fit model provide influence  the consistency, precision, and quality in which the model is used. Misalignment can occur during which the value and vision of the model is lost and replaced. Left un-monitored the intended values are often lost in translation as the construct takes on a more administrative definition and the criterion for ‘fit’ or ‘access’ becomes more restrictive. The resulting filter constrains inputs not by necessity but by preference or convenience.

Project Management Tools – Fit

Not all business cultures are an appropriate fit for project management tools, processes, and models. In many instances a business may need to first focus on developing its business model. This foundation will strengthen, but not guarantee, the business’ ability to implement the project management methodology.

“The problem with metaphor is it’s interpretation many times depends on the cultural context that generates the metaphor in the first place. More critically, the metaphor – while understandable to the reader – may not actually be the correct metaphor for the problem at hand, may not actually be correct at its basis, or simply is wrong  (The Use, Misuse, and Danger of Metaphor, 2011)”.

Some business instead prefer to adapt project management to fit an operations model instead of following the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK). This remains an option but should not be considered project management.

Culture fit models are focused on both inputs and outputs. But these models do need to be aligned with (their moral & technical foundations to include) diversity and human rights values if the models are to remain relevant, ethical, and effective.

Without this foundation the authority and credibility of the culture fit model would not exist since there are many different paths to achieve the same outcomes.

A study of complexity acknowledges the value inter-dependencies between many of the public and private models that guide strategic priorities. Because diversity initiatives are often implemented in complex and varied legislative and regulatory contexts it may be useful to check the application across different sectors and locations in order to gain further insight into:

  • Limitations
  • Barriers, &
  • Opportunities

The application of the culture fit model values is not limited to the workplace but also influences how other public programs and services are delivered. The result is a citizen journey map that supports conflicting experiences and values (across overlapping domains) that help highlight the challenges and risks of constructing culture based models.

The following domains provide a fertile ground for discussing complexity and the risks of working with a narrow definition of culture fit:

  1. Ethical immigration policies,
  2. Diversity in the workplace,
  3. Human rights,
  4. Healthcare,
  5. Corporate Citizenship, &
  6. Emotional Intelligence

The challenge facing leadership at all levels is the ability to recognize, evaluate, and act on value discontinuities when they surface:

  • Alignment: How are these models aligned?
  • Misalignment: How are these models misaligned? Why?

Culture fit definitions are directly influenced by public and private context:

  • Economic health
  • Government structure
  • Legislative antecedents
  • Funding
  • Resources
  • Education & skills available in the current workforce
  • International relations, networks, and agreements

Consider how culture fit is defined and implemented in the following contexts:

  • Democratic culture
  • Totalitarian culture
  • Paternalistic culture
  • Global culture, or
  • Closed culture

There is no single definition for culture fit. The definitions are as varied as the business models, and countries, in which they are implemented. And yet these models pull their human resources from the same source: the human race. Justification for why the definitions vary will often focus on:

  • Outputs
  • Business Models
  • Existing Structures
  • Stakeholders, &
  • History

Although the justifications are often reasonable on the surface the implied argument is that there is only one way to achieve ‘these outcomes’ is less sustainable. One has to wonder what opportunities are missed? And how these different models (and definitions) impact inter-dependencies across the system? The citizen experience?


  • Alignment: Supports a global community
  • Misalignment: ….based on historical, economic, and relational or social determinants.

Government immigration policies establish the criterion by which applications to immigrate are evaluated. There are currently four categories in Canada (for example): Family Class, Economic Immigrants, Other, and Refugees.

The federal skilled worker program (economic immigrants) emphasizes skills in demand by employers. The skills inventory is matched directly against what employers are seeking and criterion are developed to guide the immigration recruitment and evaluation process. The goals and criterion for this program change with employment and economic trends. Ideally the changes remain aligned although the updating process is slow and accessibility barriers continue to exist even if an immigrant is qualified for this program.

Informing immigration legislation with diversity programs is reinforced as long as the culture fit construct continues to stay agile and focus on the larger systemic vision. With changing historical and economic trends the public and private sector, including citizens, often advocate for establishing different priorities. Although these priorities often follow certain lines of thought (republican, democrat, etc.) the discourse fluctuates to match the urgency, quality, and characteristics of platform.

Diversity in the Workplace

  • Alignment: Supports inclusion and creativity
  • Misalignment: ……..based on the business model and existing support competencies which may be resistant to change.

The path between diversity in the workplace and business engagement or innovation is multi-linear. There are many ways to support diversity but also just as many, if not considerably more, ways in which diversity initiatives are thwarted.

The constructs, values, and tools implemented at the beginning of the ‘pipeline’ have a direct influence on the quality of the diversity initiatives and outputs that follow. Without adequate monitoring the workplace can become overly homogeneous and resistant to the dynamic values aligned with diversity. Definitions of culture fit are not always open, or inclusive.

Culture fit definitions are thus directly influenced by the following drivers:

  • Corporate mission, vision, & values
  • Corporate resources, assets, technologies, and competitive advantages
  • Core competencies & existing key performance indicators (KPI’s)
  • Corporate business model & structure
  • Reinforcement mechanisms & incentives

Barriers to workplace diversity can be resilient and challenging to overcome. The previously common phrase ‘[local] work experience’ was often observed in job descriptions and recruitment postings to later be replaced with ‘culture fit’ during job interviews.

In some countries the interview questions, and evaluation matrix, are required to map directly against the job description. In other countries this quantitative approach to candidate selection is not required. Inputs directly influence the processes and outputs that follow. Change is required in order to adapt to customer and stakeholder evolving requirements.

Human Rights

  • Alignment: Supports inclusion, safety, and access
  • Misalignment: …………based on location (age, wealth, etc.).

A discussion of ‘Human rights’ outlines the rights and protections that a citizen should be able to expect. Unfortunately the list of rights will vary depending on the country and region in which the individual lives. The list of rights pertains to:

  • Opportunity
  • Communication
  • Self-expression
  • Services
  • Access, &
  • Treatment

Despite these universally recognized (although not equally reinforced) list of rights their application is often inconsistent across and within a country. This particularly remains true when considering one’s private versus public life, or professional life.

The skills needed to balance these contradictions (rights in one context but a privilege in the next) highlights the challenges organizations, governments, and individuals face when demanding their human rights be protected.


  • Alignment: Supports global health goals
  • Misalignment: ………but determined by location, wealth, technology, etc.

Healthcare demands and services are rapidly changing (and increasing). The introduction of new technologies, treatments, and scientific insights has strengthened the healthcare community’s ability to impact national and global health measures. The war on economic and healthcare disparities continues as these advancements are rolled forward. But the barriers to overcoming and resolving these disparities remain.

“…when we compartmentalize based on an idealized conception, a mere metaphor, we fail to approach the truth of what live beings do: parts interact and are dynamic. This plays out in the way we practice (Livni, 2017).”

Research dollars continue to emphasize issues facing developed countries and on issues that can provide a high return on investment. Access to current technologies and future innovations becomes determined by national and individual access to wealth; a barrier that plagues citizens living in either developing or developed countries.

Corporate Citizenship

  • Alignment: Supports the developing of a business model aligned with social and community impact measures
  • Misalignment: ………determined by industry, business model, values, and resources.

Corporate responsibility supports a more systemic view towards business impact and considers the stakeholders, environment, customers, resources, technologies, and values of the business model. Impact is evaluated from a systemic view beyond financial measures and seeks to merge KPI’s that generate value for society.

The societal values targeted is influenced by the company’s business model and industry. Business’ that exist in the environmental services or oil & gas industry (for example) can struggle with implementing a corporate citizenship model that is aligned with the community’s current priorities. Public sector and crown corporations can also struggle with transparency, financial stewardship, and innovation due to system complexity, resource constraints, etc.

Iterative innovations (and steps) continue to help bridge these gaps although what may be needed is an industry level disruption to the business model and to the solutions emphasized.

If a company’s business model continues to struggle with the same performance issues (and outputs) over time the culture fit model may be part of the problem

Emotional Intelligence

  • Alignment: Supports a social model of inclusion and respect supported by an increasingly robust library of research
  • Misalignment: ……..but is often used to emphasize ‘what others should be doing’ and reinforces stereotypes, labeling, and can (paradoxically) limit healthy empathy.

Emotional intelligence models focus on developing the individual competencies needed to deal with difficult situations. Beginning with oneself the models support self-reflection and self understanding with the goal of self-awareness, self management, social awareness, and effective relationship management.

The goals are both aspirational and normative, emphasizing future goals as well as performing within the present context. Literature on this subject is easily accessible and shares anecdotes, platitudes,  and metaphors for understanding the social environment and learning how to achieve one’s goals within it. The use of normative statements, and categorization of behaviours into groups, provides a framework through which discussion and new solutions can be explored.


  • Alignment: Supports the development of better solutions
  • Misalignment: ……but the choice of which product innovations to pursue can emphasize the acquisition of wealth and status.

Processes supporting innovation are often provocative and inquisitive. Generative learning is

Which vectors/values would you prioritize? How does your choice impact the other areas?
How does your decision influence how the other areas are evaluated and labelled?

Does an attempt to be ‘all inclusive’ solve the conflict or simply create new ones?

Innovation models emphasize improvement for the sake of improvement and can be interpreted to build new product/ services that give little if no value to society or the customer.

The gap between present and future value is often resolved through dialogue, marketing, and product/ service positioning. The customer is persuaded that the new innovation is actually solving a new problem or that the other ‘solutions’ were actually performing poorly; that a new solution is needed.

In an over saturated market of products and services the challenge is developing a new and innovative solution that solves a problem that actually needs solving. Thankfully there are many product development and design thinking tools available to support the development of these relevant and value based tools. Unfortunately many of these are positioned as premium product/ services and are out of reach of many potential customers.

The Culture Fit Planning Tool: Innovation thru Inclusion


Although the culture fit construct is not a business model it represents a significant component of the business model architecture.

When the values shared across these process, social, and technical constructs are implemented differently the citizen’s experience (and solutions provided by the business’ product/ service offerings) are effected.

How is your team defining culture fit? What opportunities are supported through this definition? What opportunities are restricted? Share your comments below.

Travis Barker, MPA GCPM

Innovate Vancouver

[email protected]


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