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Culture add or culture fit?

Culture
Helen Gilroy-Powell

Helen Gilroy-Powell

22nd May 2019

By now, we all know work culture is important. Values, beliefs and attitudes form part of your company’s DNA so it’s no wonder top HR managers want to protect company culture. When you’re growing your business, you want to ensure that whoever you bring in is not only the best for the role, but they will compliment the culture that your company has worked so hard to establish.

On the surface, culture fit seems to make sense—hire people who will fit in with the culture you’ve nurtured—but with companies like Facebook, Pandora and Shopify banning the term culture fit, how should you take culture into account when hiring new talent?

Culture fit add diversity workforce

The problem with culture fit

Culture fit has been blamed by many for introducing bias into the hiring process. One of the most famous culture fit questions that has recently come under scrutiny is the ‘beer test’. It’s the idea that if you need to choose between two top candidates, you should hire the one that you can imagine yourself going for a beer with. The problem is that most people will instinctively gravitate towards people who they have most common ground with and these instincts are what feed our unconscious biases. Because of this, culture fit tests can lead to hiring more of the same, which can inadvertently result in discrimination.

This is where culture add comes in. Culture add is the idea that you should hire someone who would diversify your workforce, adding to your company culture. Now that’s not to say that you should hire someone who has completely different values to your company—those values should be your starting point—but they should enhance your culture through bringing in new perspectives. This could be through hiring people from traditionally disadvantaged ethnic groups, religions, genders or sexualities.

Take, for example, Facebook who is a champion of diversity in their hiring process. As the largest social network in the world, they naturally want a workforce as diverse as their customers so they can have greater empathy with the people who use their product. For the last five years they have produced a diversity report showing how traditionally underrepresented groups are represented in their staff. They also share training on how to manage unconscious bias in the workplace.

A new take on diversity

Culture add isn’t only limited to demographics, it can also be thought of in terms of personality and life experience. Perhaps your team is full of linear thinkers who work in a very logical, sequential manner. In this context, a culture add hire could be someone who is more inclined to non-linear, creative thinking who works in a much less structured way. Equally, if your team is used to working collaboratively they may learn from a new team member who has years of independent or remote work experience.

The benefits of diversity are supported by research: One study found diverse groups get better, more accurate results, but not necessarily through introducing new perspectives. While groups of similar people get on better and feel more socially validated, their constant agreement can make them overconfident in their decisions. In contrast, groups made up of diverse people can produce better work as they are more likely to question each other and encourage their teammates to scrutinise their work, meaning they were more accurate in their problem-solving.

These days companies are becoming much better advocates of diversity, publishing regular reports showing how they are recruiting employees from traditionally underrepresented groups. To take full advantage of the benefits diversity can bring to your company, you may also want to also consider diversity in terms of work style, personality and experience in addition to diversity of demographics.

Is culture add the way forward?

It would seem, then, that culture add is the way to go. Diversity creates a more equal workplace and can produce better results: what’s not to like? Well, Ron Friedman, author of “The Best Place to Work” argues that it depends on the outcome required. If the team you are hiring for aims to drive innovation and creativity, then a culture add hire may give the team an advantage. However if the work is simple and doesn’t require creative thinking, culture fit may be of more value and you’d be better off recruiting newcomers who will gel with your current team.

Friedman also says you should take the company’s life cycle into consideration. When a company or a team is small, for example in a new startup, compatibility can help the team better work together to achieve their goals. As companies and teams grow, diversity can help combat complacency by introducing “innovative tension”, pushing the team to scrutinise their work and achieve more.

This is why you’ll see larger, forward-thinking companies pushing the conversation towards culture add and embracing a diverse workforce, however this may not always be the right solution for you.

Which is best for your company?

Bringing new employees into a company always carries a certain amount of risk which is why the decisions made by hiring managers and recruiters play an important part in the overall success of a company. When bringing in new talent, it’s important to not get swept away with the latest trends and buzzwords. Culture can be an important aspect to consider when bringing in new employees, but how you take it into account depends on both the kind of work they will need to do and the stage the company is at.

The reality is that both culture fit and culture add have their place in recruitment. The best hiring managers are able to recognise and evaluate their company’s culture, their specific needs and their own biases, using these insights to intelligently inform their hiring decisions and create great places to work.


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