I was in a meeting with a customer recently and the topic of culture fit came up. We were discussing the quality of candidates for an open role but then she said, “whilst they might be great candidates and can do the job, they also have to be the right cultural fit for the business”.
This got me thinking about the impact of hiring for culture fit as this can be a tricky path to tread, mainly because it can be difficult to measure whether someone is the right cultural fit for the business but also, how do you ensure the hiring process remains free from unconscious biases to maintain a diverse work environment?
Firstly, we need to understand what is meant by culture fit. Although definitions vary slightly, in general hiring for culture fit focuses on how the candidate will assimilate and adapt to the pre-existing culture, values, behavioural norms and beliefs of a company.
When you consider this, it seems there may be a couple of downsides when taking this approach to hiring. If we are seeking only people who share the same perspectives and ideas, it could limit an organisation’s ability to think creatively and generate innovative ideas and solutions.
Hiring people to fit into a culture can also be a sure-fire way to reinforce unconscious biases. People who are "different" might be rejected or excluded, deliberately or unintentionally, because managers assume that they will be difficult to work with and won't stay around. Thus, this approach can lead to discrimination, as well as stifling the diversity that teams need to innovate and compete.
However, according to Harvard Business Review in their article Hiring for Culture Fit Doesn’t Have to Undermine Diversity which tackles many misconceptions of hiring for culture fit, they state that this approach doesn’t have to impact efforts to increase workplace diversity.
“An assessment of culture fit should focus on how well the person’s values align with the organisation’s, rather than how well their personal characteristics, such as gender, ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation, align with the current workforce.” It continues, “research shows that adopting this stricter definition of culture fit can reap its benefits while still bringing in diverse perspectives, experiences, and skills; it also finds that higher value fit is associated with higher retention for people who, because of being demographically different, are typically more at risk for low retention.”
Culture add v Culture fit.
In Built-in’s article, Hiring for Cultural Fit: More Harm Than Good they explore focusing on cultural contribution or ‘culture add.’ Rather than hire for culture fit, companies should seek candidates who have something new to bring to the table, who have different backgrounds and experiences from their own. Alex Moore, Director of Talent Acquisition at management consulting and IT services firm Credera, explains why “culture add” can help build a strong, innovative culture "Culture adds seed a resilient culture by challenging groupthink that can come from just hiring for fit,” says Moore. “Culture adds have the will and skill to think differently, so proactively infusing them into the culture is vital for growth. If you want your company to continue to grow and evolve, your culture must grow and evolve along with it."
Personally, I like Mike Stamp’s balanced assessment of hiring for cultural fit in his LinkedIn article Understanding the Essence of Cultural Fit he says “Mistaking 'sameness' for cultural fit can be a costly oversight. After all, it's diversity that often drives innovation. So, while it's essential to gauge alignment with company values, it's equally crucial to ensure diversity isn't sacrificed at the altar of cultural fit.”
Perhaps the next time we are hiring we stop talking about cultural fit - which can lead to the idea that people either fit or they don’t - and in turn manifest into potential unconscious bias. Perhaps instead we simply prioritise values alignment and focus on cultural add.
Check out Mindtools.com who have some great tips on minimising the risk of hiring purely for fit.