Can employees succeed in the workplace even when they're not a natural cultural fit? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Marie Stein, Mediator, on Quora:

You'd think it'd be almost impossible to be hired into a workplace without being a natural cultural fit.

Why would anyone ever be hired if they don't "fit?" If you get offered a job, someone thinks you have the right stuff -- the skills or the personality or the attitude or the social spark to make a positive contribution and get the job done. No hiring manager is going to spend the company's money on someone who they think is going to be difficult to work with.

Or so you'd think.

When an employee accepts a job, they promise to try to perform the job to the best of their ability, including being a "cultural fit." This is often interpreted as doing things as seemingly insignificant (to some) as conforming to the dress code, or pitching in for lunch on Taco Tuesday or towards a colleague's baby shower.

But that's not true "cultural fit." Cultural fit isn't about participating in office pools, or wearing chinos and a polo shirt on casual Fridays.

Cultural fit is having shared and aligned values and mission in the workplace. It's owning the beliefs, behavior and personality that are consistent with the company's mission. Cultural fit is exhibited through language and communication, through daily work ethic and integration of your work with your lifestyle. An employee's degree of job satisfaction and comfort with the degree of control they have over their future in the workplace is perhaps the best determinant of cultural fit. If you are not happy in your job, chances are you are not a cultural fit.

Cultural fit is sharing the prevailing work ethic (for example, working late on Tuesdays, volunteering to put in an extra weekend here and there or punching out everyday at exactly 4 pm) and being comfortable and productive in the workspace, whether open plan office space, remote work environment, or a traditional office and carrels. It's about email v. instant message v. phone v. face-to-face, and communication; it's about understanding how decisions are made and how roles, responsibility and accountability are distributed. Company culture is about attributes and mores; about whether department goal-setting is collaborative v. hierarchical, whether your boss takes all the blame and you get the credit or vice versa or neither, and whether your team needs daily staff meetings or only meets once a quarter to get the communication and information necessary to get a job done.

Not everyone is happy in a "holacracy" (a flat organizational structure where employees are wholly responsible and accountable for setting their own goals: Holacracy ); and not everyone thrives in a traditional authoritative management pyramid. Some people succeed in organizations where they can show up at 2 pm and work through midnite; others are at their best from 6:30 am to 3 pm. Some are only comfortable working 9-5.

Understanding how an individual's schedule and work preferences fit into a particular organization is cultural fit. An employee can be the only person over 50 and the most junior in an organization, or the youngest person in the company and the most knowledgeable apart from the CEO - and prove to be an excellent and successful "cultural fit" - or not.

It's extremely difficult to succeed in an environment - any environment - where you don't share the values of the people and organization you work with. But being the only corporate lawyer from Canada in an American corporate law firm? Or the only person who wears seersucker suits in a casual dress environment, or who's vegan in a marketing department of an investment business whose favorite lunch caterer is In N Out burger? Not usually a problem.

Sometimes, employees change a culture, and make it fit them - but that's rare. Cultural shifts most often come from the top down, through mergers and acquisitions or through new CEO's or division heads. Those are the kinds of events and people most likely to change the culture, and not conform to it , although lawsuits and mass firings, layoffs and economic downturns can change a business culture, too.

Consider this example: it's not impossible to be successful no matter your gender, color, religious orientation, or educational background as a member of the Democratic Party; but it'd be impossible to be successful in the Democratic Party as a Republican. And vice-versa.

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Published on: May 25, 2017