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Moving Beyond Culture Fit

By Paul Myers, CMA, CSCA, CPA
March 1, 2022

Hiring for “culture add” instead of “culture fit” can help companies manage unconscious biases and lead to greater innovation.

 

Culture and core values of a company are critical to its success. While building a great team is a challenge for any organization, developing a team based on “culture fit” increases the likelihood of cultivating groupthink, which can slow down the organization’s progress. Hiring for “culture add,” where there’s an intentional pursuit of candidates who can bring diverse perspectives, can help a company continue to innovate and flourish. Let’s review how the idea of culture fit developed and how culture add is helping companies move forward.

 

The idea of hiring for culture fit developed in the early 1990s with the purpose of finding effective intersections between an employee’s values and those of the organization. The goal was to improve organizational productivity, employee satisfaction, and staff retention by encouraging the feeling of belonging among employees.

 

Without intentional management of the hiring process, however, identifying those value intersections became more about having the potential employees fit in rather than about using a company’s core values and workplace culture to achieve goals and improve the organization.

 

CULTURE FIT VS. CULTURE ADD

 

When an organization is newly established, it draws people to itself due to its values and mission and then creates its organizational culture. But as the company grows, it often defaults to hiring for culture fit. This leads to the development of homogeneity and groupthink, which can stunt its ability to grow.

 

A reason for this unfortunate shift is the failure to establish good metrics and objective processes for proper evaluation of job candidates. Personal values can often be equated to personality traits and social interests resulting in hiring managers seeking applicants who match their background, experiences, and preferences. Such a hiring process can succumb to unconscious biases—the attitudes or stereotypes that affect people’s decisions in an unconscious manner—and develop groupthink, which limits the ability of the organization to meet diverse customer needs.

 

Hiring for culture fit and its tendency to perpetuate bias, both conscious and unconscious, influence the treatment of underrepresented groups in a company. A research study by IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants), the California Society of Certified Public Accountants, and the International Federation of Accountants highlights the need for cultivating a “sustainable culture of belonging” in the global accounting profession by making persons of all backgrounds feel welcome, accepted, and included (see “Toward a Culture of Belonging”).

 

Fortunately, the shift away from culture fit has begun. Companies are moving toward a more flexible and inclusive hiring process to look for culture adds. Organizations are moving away from hiring candidates who “fit in” and instead are looking to create an environment where diverse employees can feel included. For instance, in 2017, Facebook “explicitly asked interviewers not to use the term ‘culture fit’ when giving feedback on a candidate because that phrase can easily allow bias to influence the outcome of an interview.”

 

Culture add means establishing an inclusive recruitment process and treating each candidate as capable of bringing something to the table. The interview team should evaluate the values each candidate can bring to the existing culture, including how the prospect could help build new skills. Culture-add hires seed an innovative and resilient culture by challenging groupthink. As Alex Moore, director of talent acquisition at management consulting firm Credera put it, “Culture adds have the will and the skill to think differently.” Organizations need to look for diverse candidates who bring original ideas while still sharing company values. These additional activities and behaviors can help the company achieve bigger goals.

 

Studies show that organizations that support diversity and inclusion build value through different perspectives. Diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts benefit every organization because they provide the opportunity to drive innovation, increase creativity and collaboration, and stimulate growth.

 

HIRING FOR CULTURE ADD

 

How does a company go about hiring for culture add? The first step is to evaluate the current culture of an organization using a standardized tool. The existing team is measured to assess the baseline. This provides some quantitative data and creates an assessment tool against which the candidates can be evaluated.

 

Interviews can provide additional qualitative information. But they are susceptible to bias; interviewers are likely to interpret the questions and answers based on their own experiences. Structured interviews can be an instrumental tool in mitigating the effects of unconscious bias. Companies such as TestGorilla have developed tools to help define, measure, and determine the alignment of values between a candidate and the hiring organization. Such tools can help transform some of that information into a quantifiable format.

 

For the structured interview process to be successful, the organization’s core values need to be defined. The company culture and values play a front-and-center role in the hiring conversation. Companies should consider including their core values in the job posting to emphasize what the organization is about. Interview teams should be trained to understand the process of structured interviewing and how it can help them identify and manage their biases. Human resources and hiring managers should develop tiers of questions so that the interviewers can differentiate between positions of different experience levels. The business objective for each position should be identified and clarified. At the same time, the candidate’s technical skills need not be ignored. It’s also important for the interview team to be as diverse and inclusive as possible.

 

TestGorilla offers questions for the internal evaluation of candidates for culture add, such as “Does the candidate challenge our existing thinking? Does the candidate represent a voice for existing customers we might be missing?” You can also find online examples of questions to ask your candidates. These are questions on the LinkedIn Talent Solutions webpage: What is your impression of our company’s culture, values, and mission? How do you think we could improve?

 

Building a diverse and inclusive team requires deliberate effort from the organization’s leadership. Companies need to be consistent in how they interview for each position. The overall process may evolve over time, but objectivity needs to be maintained to allow for the best assessment for culture add. Overall, this approach of looking to add new perspectives and innovative ideas will propel your organization forward to provide better service to your customers and clients as well as increased value for your stakeholders.

 

Paul Myers, CMA, CSCA, CPA, is a client services associate at Vantage Point Financial Services, LLC; chair of IMA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee; and a member of IMA’s Dayton Chapter. He can be reached at myersp70@gmail.com.
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