Culture Fit vs. Culture Add: Why One Term Actually Hurts Diversity

May 9, 2018

You just completed a 45 minute interview with a prospective candidate and your internal team holds a meeting to discuss their candidacy. The conversation almost always covers the candidate’s ability to do the job, their previous experience, and how quickly will they will be able to ramp up. Then, out of nowhere someone says, “I am just not sure they are the right fit for our company.”

What does the right fit mean exactly? How is culture fit defined?

According to Harvard Business Review:

“Culture fit is the likelihood that someone will reflect and be able to adapt to the core beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that make up your organization.”

The problem with a hiring process built around “culture fit” is that it facilitates bias and leads to a homogenous culture.

According to Lars Schmidt, Founder & Principal at Amplify,

“Culture fit has become a weaponized phrase that interviewers use as a blanket term to reject candidates that don’t match the hiring manager’s view of the ideal candidate; and as such, it has become the embodiment of unconscious bias.”

By looking for talent that has similar beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors you could potentially reject candidates because they don’t behave like or share the same attitudes as your company. This is contrary to adding more diverse perspectives. Ideally, you are looking to hire someone who may have different attitudes and behaviors to help your company make better products.

So, what should you do instead? Hire for culture add. We define culture add as:

The likelihood that someone will not only reflect the company’s values and professional ethics, but also bring an aspect of diverse opinions, experiences, and specialized skill which enhances not just the team, but the overall company culture.

How do you transition from assessing talent based on culture fit to culture add?

1. Think beyond the resume.

What most people fail to realize is that the size of the company may determine the personality that will best thrive on their team. A person who works well at a startup may not enjoy the culture of a large company. A startup with 5–10 people will have a different culture from a company with 500 employees or a large company with 10,000 or more employees. For example, an introvert more than likely will not enjoy working at a startup where they will be closely interacting with many people in a day. It is not that they can’t do the job, but they get drained from the environment, and therefore will do either subpar work or leave. So try to understand if a candidate’s personality will be able to thrive in your work environment.

2. Is your company structure the right environment for this candidate?

The structure of your company is essential when looking for the right potential candidate. Larger and more mature companies are usually heavily structured at both the corporate and process levels, while startups to mid-size companies are more flexible and can respond more quickly to changing market conditions. When looking for candidates who will be a culture add you must think about how that candidate will deal with company changes. Will they be able to create order out of chaos? Alternatively, are they suited to improving or sustaining the order of the day? Hone your questions to probe your candidate to see how they deal with different variances in structure.

3. Does this candidate have any transferable skills that can align to the position?

Many companies have little or no training and onboarding for new hires, so they look for candidates with 3–5 years experience for entry-level positions, whom they believe will not need as much training. This can cause long hiring cycles and a limited candidate pool. You need to get creative in your sourcing strategy by looking for transferable skills for your open job opportunities.

For example, an event coordinator could be become a project manager due to the same strong attention to detail and organization required by both positions. Try honing your questions or test your candidates to find the technical competence of the person to see if they can deal with the actual challenges which need to be solved by your team. Look for commonalities in experiences to the needs of the team. Is this person trainable? Can they bring these skills to enhance the team?

Overall when hiring a candidate, you should not just be looking for someone to fit the status quo, but add to the company’s development. In other words, look for culture add, not culture fit!

Melissa James

President, Founder and CEO

Melissa James is CEO and Founder of the Tech Connection whose mission is to help companies make meaningful connections that empower and engage diverse talent by promoting inclusive hiring best practices. The Tech Connection has a strong track record of building high-performing diverse teams for elite companies.