Hiring for Culture Add: Why Culture “Fit” Is Outdated
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When the term company culture was first introduced back in the ‘80s, the world of work completely changed.
Work was no longer just about how many products a company could produce or how many sales calls would generate a certain amount of money or leads. Instead, the focus shifted to something never seen before: culture, company values, and a completely different kind of hiring process.
Companies were no longer motivated to hire people solely based on their competencies, work-related experience, and education. They started hiring those who would match the atmosphere of the team and understand the unspoken values of the workplace. They were looking for new hires who would love to grab a beer after work and contribute more than just the responsibilities of their role.
They started hiring new employees for culture fit.
What is culture fit?
When someone is a good cultural fit, they can work well with the rest of their team members, understand and appreciate the present work environment, ‘fit’ the company values, and have a complementary work style.
When teams first started hiring for culture fit, there were no screening blueprints or tried-and-tested assessments to follow. Big companies like Coca-Cola and Amazon went public with their own recruiting processes, so many other companies adapted and followed suit.
Interview questions started shifting from checking if the candidate could match every bullet point in the job description to checking how well the individual would fit into the organizational culture. Hiring managers started looking for pre-determined personality traits, core values, communicational styles, hobbies, and interests. When making hiring decisions, it mattered more to get the whole picture of who the person was than to check a few must-have boxes.
The shortcomings of hiring for culture fit
Hiring for culture fit changed how we hire and train. It worked well for several decades, helping companies increase employee satisfaction and retention rates. But eventually, it led to a lot of like-minded thinking that crippled progress and initiatives.
What changed, and why?
Well, talent acquisition teams in the ‘80s were flying blind when it came to deciding who was or wasn’t a cultural fit, and no one really knew what kind of impact that would have. It took a while to gather all the necessary data and pull concrete and valuable information on the subject.
Now, we can see there’s another side to the coin:
Hiring for culture fit is complex, multi-layered, and sometimes very challenging to achieve. It doesn’t have a set of pre-made yes/no questions. A lot of it is left for interpretation by hiring managers, interviewers, or even new hires going through the process. With nothing to listen to but their gut feeling, many fell victim to the unconscious bias.
Maintaining status quo
Hiring for culture fit meant the status quo was here to stay. Hiring managers chose candidates they liked and felt comfortable with to proceed to the next stage of the hiring process, thus maintaining the current work environment and culture.
Homogenous cultures and groupthink
Finding a good culture fit doesn’t lead to the creation of diverse teams or introduce new perspectives or out-of-the-box thinking. Instead, it creates homogenous culture, introducing one more person with the same viewpoints and blind spots. In the end, minimal diversity leads to a groupthink mentality that makes innovative thinking and breakthroughs difficult.
Instead, companies need to focus on culture add.
What is culture add?
Culture add isn’t a very new concept. Harvard Business Review wrote about it back in 2018, but the term is still widely unknown. Even those who are aware of the term aren’t sure how to implement it into their recruiting processes. So, let’s break down what this actually entails.
When you’re looking for a culture add, you’re actually looking for someone whose core values add, challenge, and contribute to those of your company. You’re looking at the person holistically and all they can bring to the table from their experiences and background.
During the interview process, hiring managers look for how this person will not just fit the mold or the status quo of the business and current employees, but add to it. When evaluating a candidate for culture add, they consider the following:
Will they contribute to what the current team members lack?
Will they increase the company’s capacity to deal with a problematic subject?
Will they bring forward new viewpoints?
Will they thoughtfully push back on management with new solutions?
Will they implement an improvement in the work style?
While culture fit leads to homogeneity, hiring for culture add leads to diversity and inclusion. It brings together people of various demographics and experiences and introduces new perspectives, ways of thinking, and skill sets.
DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) isn’t the core concept of cultural add, but it’s a big part of it. However, culture add isn’t just someone who is different. It takes the best from the culture fit concept and then adds to it!
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Why companies should be hiring for culture add instead of fit
Time and time again, research shows that diversity leads to progress. You want your employee base to reflect your diverse customer base, but the road there isn’t straight and narrow.
Homogenous culture leads to simplicity and sticking to a norm where teams collaborate to drive the same outcome. This does not lead to innovation, new efficiency, or groundbreaking achievements. Companies may feel comfortable in this state, but it doesn’t generate a good outcome for the business, growth, or employee experience.
This is where culture add comes into play. It opens up blind spots, shifts perspectives, shakes things up, and through this experience and collaboration, can take the company to a whole new level.
Damon Berkhaug, Deel’s Global Head of Talent, says the best companies in the world are successful because of the caliber of their people, which companies can raise by focusing on culture add.
“Gone are the days when hiring managers could use 'culture fit' as a mechanism to eliminate candidates unlike themselves,” said Damon. “The best companies in our global economy view every new hire as an opportunity to enhance competitive advantage through hiring people who add new skills, experiences, and perspectives to their teams.”
Introducing this new concept of ‘culture add’ to your hiring process may seem disruptive. Sticking with how things have always been done may seem good, but in the long run, hiring for culture add versus culture fit can create change that wouldn’t be possible without this change in perspective.
This is why it's important to hire people with different backgrounds and experiences who feel comfortable suggesting change and innovating from the traditional solution or experience. It could be exactly what your company needs.
How to hire for culture add: Three questions to ask
Talent acquisition teams may have their hands full when it comes to culture add vs. culture fit hiring. They need to know—and know well—the culture of the hiring manager and their team, how it can be improved, the challenges they’re facing, and how their homogeneity needs to be disrupted.
This is impossible to achieve simply by scrolling someone’s LinkedIn or CV/resume. It requires a very thought-out strategic approach to the hiring process, one that is aligned not only with that team but with company values as a whole.
With that in mind, here are three questions you can ask candidates to gauge their culture add:
1. What do you think about our culture, and how would you improve it?
This question will tell you how much research the candidate did to prepare for the interview process and how much they’ve learned about your company.
As an outsider, it’s impossible to learn everything. But they should definitely be aware of your core values and the most important aspects of your company culture—and they should be able to articulate how they would improve it. Identifying their potential contribution (based on their own assessments) gives great insight into how good of a cultural add they would be.
2. What have been your most important contributions to previous teams?
In this part of the hiring process, it’s important to identify several different types of contributions the employee has made.
Sometimes the contribution will be a personality trait (keeping everyone energized), a particular solution to a problem (use of a VLOOKUP function in a huge Macro), or even a very concrete piece of knowledge they acquired throughout their academic career.
All of these examples should help you paint a picture of how well they would work on your team. Are their contributions something you already have, something you’re lacking, or something you have no interest in? Additionally, this answer should also be of great help in painting a full picture of someone’s personality, as well as work style, beyond what’s written in the curriculum.
3. What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned from colleagues you didn't get along with?
Someone who doesn’t get along with people who are different from them wouldn’t be a great culture add. You aren’t just looking for someone the current team members could benefit from, you’re also looking for someone who could benefit from the current team members!
The employee should be open to working with, learning from, and growing with people who have different viewpoints than them so they can do great things together. They should already be aware of their own blind spots and how other people can and have helped them overcome them, especially if they have seniority. It’s a spectacular foundation to build from and disrupt the status quo.
The takeaway: Don’t improve the horse—invent the car
After launching his first automobile line, Henry Ford famously said, “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have told me faster horses.”
Think of hiring for culture add vs. culture fit the same way.
Your entire team, who works well together, is trying to make horses faster. What you need is someone who will help your team invent the car, while still being able to laugh at the same kind of jokes. That is what cultural add does—start hiring for that.