Are You Hiring for Culture Fit or Culture Add? A 6 Point Checklist to Find Out Where You Stand.

November 14, 2018

If you travel in HR circles, you’ve probably heard the demands to stop hiring for “culture fit.”

Experts like Amplify Founder, Lars Schmidt, say the term has become a weapon for interviewers who unfairly reject candidates who don’t look like them. Then there’s organizational psychologist Scott Highhouse who (after much research) called subjective hiring “the greatest failure of I-O (industrial and organizational) psychology.” And more recently, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) made a public call for the end of the ‘Beer Test’ in favor of hiring for culture add.

So, you think you’re objective.

Before you go rolling your eyes at the mere mention of yet another HR buzzword, ask yourself this: How many recruiters do you know who have had their dream candidate vetoed for dubious reasons?

Fact is, none of us are as objective as we think we are. One Yale study found that perceiving yourself as objective is actually correlated with showing more bias. Yikes.

This isn’t a comfortable conversation, but it’s one we need to have. There are still far too many cases where job candidates are rejected under the guise of “cultural fit,” when the real issue is age/gender/race/etc. Not only is it wrong, lazy and extremely shortsighted. It’s also just plain bad for business.

We’re about to tell you what culture add really is, why it matters and how to incorporate it into your hiring process at the practical level.

What is culture add? And why you need it.

In case you’re still not convinced, here are a few more numbers to help drive home the point that if you’re relying on stereotypes to assess candidates, you’re doing your company a major disservice.

      • Companies with inclusive talent practices generate up to 30% higher revenue per employee.
      • Gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors and ethnically-diverse companies are 35% more likely to do the same.
      • Not only that, 67% of job seekers say they care about your diversity statistics.
      • Forget likeability. Businesses who want to grow need to recruit the kind of talent that will actively push them to be better.

Hiring for culture add empowers you to build a truly balanced team, both in terms of skill sets and demographics. It gives you the kind of genuine diversity of thought, character and perspective that opens up your business to a whole new world of profit-driving opportunities.

But while 71% of companies say they want an “inclusive” culture, only 12% have reached a level that can be described as “mature”. The real problem may be less about accepting why this is important, and more about figuring out how to walk the talk.

The Complete Culture Add Hiring Checklist

1. Create your strategy

Top-level buy-in is crucial to the success of any diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiative, even at the earliest stages of sourcing applicants. Companies who merely pay lip service are the ones who stay stuck.

But before you set off drafting your brand new EEO statement, take a minute to connect with your internal influencers and find out what you really want. Here are some questions to think about:

      • Does everyone know what they want for the business?
      • Does everyone know what they want in a candidate?
      • What skills, traits and characteristics do your top-performers have in common?
      • What skills, traits and characteristics does your ideal candidate have?

Diversity is not a “feel good” exercise. It has a wide-ranging impact on the entire business and if you really want it to work, it needs to be upheld from top-to-bottom and side-to-side. Early buy-in from every member of the hiring team will help you secure the right candidates faster.

2. Choose your goals and metrics wisely

How helpful is your D&I data, really?

In the words of Atlassian’s Head of Global D&I, Aubrey Blanche, “An increase in representation isn’t the same as an increase in diversity. If your customer support team is 60% women and 50% non-white, but the rest of your employees are white men in their 20s and 30s, your company is not truly diverse, no matter how good the overall numbers might look.”

It’s no coincidence that the frontrunning companies who win with D&I have developed a comprehensive and deeply thoughtful approach to hiring for culture add and measuring their results.

Here are some questions to consider:

      • Do you measure the addition of different perspectives throughout your business? Or just representation?
      • Do you look at D&I at the team level or corporate level?
      • What parts of your organization are missing out on perspectives from people of color, veterans, neurodiverse talent, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, people with criminal records and people over 40? Why?
      • What does the word “balance” mean at your company?
      • What is inclusion and how do you measure it?

Instead of using surface-level industry aggregates, you may need to rely on a broader set of data that gives you a more complete picture of what’s really going on within your organization. Then, align your goals to fit with what’s reasonable given the size and shape of your business.

Still not sure where to start? Don’t sweat it. Aubrey’s put together a complete primer, including links to excellent, data-driven answers for some of the most common D&I FAQs.

3. Work towards a transparent employer brand

Once you know what culture add means to your organization, the next natural question is: How can you focus your recruitment to close the gaps?

Anyone can update the stock photos on the company website, but it takes true courage to go deeper. Here are a few ways to start eliminating the blind spots in your employer brand:

      • Make sure your benefits go beyond ping pong tables to include financial and work/life offerings such as, health insurance, parental leave, childcare, comfortable workspaces and coverage for domestic partners.
      • Include a powerful D&I statement on your website, career pages and in your company values.
      • Share real examples of how you approach D&I within your organization.
      • Interview your employees on how they view culture inside your company.

One of the most common misconceptions about hiring for culture add is that it’s a pipeline problem, but great employees don’t leave jobs in a field they love because of the work itself. They leave because of the culture.

Whatever you do, resist the urge to censor and sugarcoat. If you’ve made mistakes in the past, own up to them and make a public pledge to do better. A transparent employer brand can help you bypass any constraints in the talent pool and hire the people who are truly the best for the job. And let’s not forget that your employees are your best brand advocates. Treat them right and they’ll spread the word.

4. Source for culture add

A balanced team starts with a wider talent pool. Talk to your hiring teams to eliminate the concept of culture fit and focus on sourcing candidates who are a values fit.

Here are the elements to include:

      • Make sure your job ads and descriptions clearly communicate your values
      • Add language that clarifies the behaviors these values imply
      • Focus job descriptions on must-have skills, avoid cramming in too many nice-to-haves
      • Provide a clear salary range
      • Avoid gender-charged language
      • Boldly state your commitment to D&I

Tools like Textio can help you weed out the gendered language from your job descriptions (you’d be surprised how easily the wrong words can sneak in). Once you’ve gotten your Textio score nice and high, it’s time to start sourcing diverse talent.

Updating your job description templates so you can easily post across job boards straight from your ATS is a great way to start widening the talent pool. Job search platforms that cater to underrepresented groups, such as Jopwell, are also great places to scout top-performers.

5. Structure your interviews

The magic of hiring for culture add is that it’s centered around two undeniably awesome goals: efficiency and objectivity. And guess what happens when you double down on these principles.

You get diversity.

Because we humans have a surprising knack for drawing “firm” conclusions from random information, regardless of whether that info is accurate. Not only that, ad hoc interviewing is woefully ineffective at predicting on-the-job performance. On the flip side, by using the same set of objective questions for every candidate, structured interviews can help remove bias and ensure a more efficient, objective hiring process.

Here are a few things to include:

      • Interview questions that are based on the actual job
      • A review of the questions from all members of the hiring team
      • A fair and consistent score card or grading system

The trick with structured interviews is to get input from all the right people, without creating an administrative nightmare for candidates. If possible, try using your ATS to attach your interview guides directly to a candidate’s profile and/or calendar invite so your team has everything they need to ask the right questions in the right order.

In some ATS tools, you can even save a step by copying interview questions straight to your scorecard and automating your internal chasing up to make sure every member of the hiring team provides their feedback.

6. Sync and debrief

You might be thinking, “That all sounds great, but the likelihood of doing this at my company is slim to none.” We get it.

Hiring is hard and change takes time. That’s why every great plan needs an even better back up plan. Here are some questions to think about when creating your hiring contingency plan.

      • What steps will you follow when feedback from the team doesn’t match?
      • What’s the definition of “consensus” at your company?
      • What are the steps you take to reach a consensus?
      • What steps can you take to reduce any hard feelings after a decision is made?

In an ideal world, you’d be able to have a kick-off meeting with the whole hiring team every time a new job is posted, but in the real world, that can’t always happen. If you can at least get everyone aligned on what a ‘no’ and a ‘yes’ look like and what to do when you have an imbalance of the two, you can help keep the process moving.

Because the truth is, if you’re doing it right, hiring for culture add will be a truly iterative process. One that you rinse, repeat and get better at with every candidate who comes through. Take the time to swap notes, share insights and get as clear as possible on what you really want (not what you think you want). It’s the best possible way to secure the people who can truly take your business further.

Founder & CEO

Darren Bounds is the CEO and Founder of Breezy HR, the people-first applicant tracking system that keeps hiring simple and in sync. He's also the former VP, Technology at Taleo. Darren thinks great design can save the world and HR should be human. When he's not building products or businesses, you can catch him watching Office Space.