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Culture Fit vs Culture Add

December 2, 2021

By Sheila Hoover, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Raise your hands…how many of you have said hiring for culture fit is as important, or more important, than hiring for skillset?  We can train people on the skills needed to perform a specific job, but we cannot change who a person is.  But, have you thought that hiring for culture “fit” could cause an unconscious bias and result in a culture that ends up being discriminatory?  

According to Natasha Bowman in her LinkedIn article, we should hire for culture add, not fit.  “Whether you call it an implicit bias or an unconscious bias, it adds up to the same thing, which is excluding potentially qualified people from job opportunities based on a hunch that requires no explanation.”  “All people are meant to be different and unique—an asset to any culture, not a cookie cutter image of someone else. Just because someone doesn’t look like, speak like, or act like people within your organization doesn’t mean they are not a valuable asset. In fact, a person’s uniqueness is what can make them an incredible addition to any workplace.”

When we hire for culture fit, we are looking for people that are just like us.  They have the same perspectives, thought processes, and come from a similar background.  Bowman states, “Hiring by referral, recruiting from the same schools, limiting our geographic boundaries.  Looking for people who fit nicely into our little cultures bringing little disruption to the status quo.  These old systems and processes have statistically left valuable groups of people behind.”

We also have to consider how this affects productivity and the success of the business.  If we continue managing the business with the same thought processes, we are less likely to advance and grow in our ever-changing society. Organizational change from the top down is the key.  “The goal should be to take small steps consistently.  If you build evidence-based tweaks into your fundamental business systems, the organizational change you effect will be more resilient and long-lasting that a CEO-driven, conversation-based culture change.” Says Joan C. Williams with ERE.

Williams provided an example from Airbnb. “In 2015, only 10% of new data scientists at Airbnb were women. By implementing the kind of best practices described below, the company increased female new hires to 47% in just one year, doubling its overall number of female data scientists from 15% to 30%.”

The best practices Airbnb utilized included data analysis of applicant’s gender, creating a ratings chart to increase conversion, changing the interview process to include a more diverse interview panel, and offering every candidate an informal coffee chat with a member of the interview panel to help the candidates feel more comfortable during the process.

If you are looking to improve diversity in hiring, consider the following bias interrupters Williams suggests during your recruiting and hiring meetings.

  1. Review how to identify and interrupt bias in hiring. 
  2. Put accountability in writing.  Identify what qualifications are important to each position and have a detailed explanation of why a candidate did not meet those qualifications.
  3. Use a consistent rating scale and ensure the team is rating each candidate independently.  Establish clear grading rubrics and ensure everyone grades on the same scales.  When the group rates candidates together, it can cause influence in the rating instead of each interviewer providing their independent ratings.
  4. Ensure you use structured interviews.  Ask every candidate the same list of questions that are directly relevant to the job.  Utilize performance and behavioral based questions to gage how the candidate has behaved in actual situations.
  5. Rethink your culture fit.  Have your leadership define what culture fit is for your organization, then define what values should be added to your culture to ensure diversity in the workforce. 
  6. Analyze and audit yourselves after each hire.  Determine if your company is attracting a diverse pool of applicants but only a certain population is making it through to the offer.  This will tell you if more work needs to be done to increase diversity.

Throughout my career, I’ve learned how fun it is to work in a diverse culture.  As we add value, instead of fit, into our organizations, we all become better, well-rounded people.

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