Hiring for culture fit is proven to hinder an organization’s ability to innovate, undermine diversity efforts, and ultimately act as a shortcut for mediocrity.
Hiring based on culture fit implies new hires will:
Share enthusiasm about a company’s mission/purpose
Mesh with a company’s goals & values
Studies show employees who share their company’s values have higher job satisfaction, superior job performance and greater retention (SHRM). Furthermore, the thought process around hiring for culture fit often implies that these employees will not display toxic behaviors that undermine morale and productivity among teams. In addition to sharing company values, hiring for culture fit often results in hiring those who have a similar approach to working together and a mutual understanding of how to make decisions and assess risk. However, according to Patty McCord, previously Chief Talent Officer at Netflix, for those unable to determine how a candidate approaches their work and make decisions, hiring for culture fit often reverts to hiring someone they’d like to have a beer with.
Unfortunately, hiring based on culture fit has become:
Hiring decisions based on commonalities including educational, cultural or career backgrounds
Shared enjoyment of such perks as ping pong and craft beer
A weaponized term that undermines diversity, professionalism and merit
While the benefits of hiring for culture fit have been proven, the actual use of the term has been long misused to cover biases and hinder organizational diversity. Various research studies suggest hiring for culture fit and hiring for diversity often pull in opposite directions (Caitlin Fitzsimmons). Unfortunately, talent acquisition leaders and managers have allowed this to go unchecked for far too long. Interview feedback based on one’s culture fit is too often used as a blanket statement to reject candidates that do not fit the mold they are looking for. While hiring for culture fit may continue be the “path of least resistance” method of hiring, it is also proven to hinder an organization’s ability to innovate, undermine diversity efforts, and ultimately act as a shortcut for mediocrity.
The truth is the best candidates rarely fit a cookie cutter mold and people with all sorts of personalities can be great at the job you need done.
There is no good way to recruit for culture fit.
One problem when hiring based on culture fit is that most companies have not gone through the necessary steps to make the term objective and measurable. Rather than decision making focused on qualifications and capabilities, culture fit hiring is based on “social categorization”. The problem with social categorization (the process of sorting people into groups based on first impressions) is that these decisions are rarely logical and legal (University of Florida Training & Organizational Development). When relying on subjective social categorization-based feedback, hiring managers will often unconsciously bucket candidates based off certain biases including:
The “like me” syndrome. This occurs when a candidate appears very similar to the interviewer in style, personality, or educational backgrounds. Naturally, people tend to favor those similar to themselves. Unfortunately, the “like me” syndrome relies on personal characteristics rather than job related criteria.
The “looking-glass merit”. This pattern revolves around the notion that interviewers look for traits in candidates that make them feel good about themselves. For instance, a manager who attended a low-prestige college may favor applicants who did the same and be resistant to those from prestigious schools.
The simple fact remains, there’s just no good way to hire for cultural fit. Cultural fit remains subjective, impossible to quantify and therefore nearly impossible to get right regardless of the amount of systematic psychometric or behavioral application testing measures used. Too often hiring managers will hide behind phrases like, “I’ll know the right candidate when I meet them” or “We just didn’t click.”
The truth is the best candidates rarely fit a cookie cutter mold and people with all sorts of personalities can be great at the job you need done. From a team perspective, working with people who fit into the same organizational culture is a sure-fire way to reinforce unconscious biases and create a decision-making culture based around groupthink (BuiltIn).
Stop looking for culture fit and look for culture add. It’s not just better for business- it’s the right thing to do.
How to address culture fit within your organization & interview process.
The fastest way to inspire organizational change around culture fit hiring is to begin looking for culture add, instead of culture fit. According to Nick Tuno, looking for culture fit is how you build a short-sighted homogeneous workplace. However, looking for culture add is how you build a diverse workplace with a broad range of perspectives. Tuno encourages organizations to, “stop looking for culture fit and look for culture add. It’s not just better for business- it’s the right thing to do.” Instead of focusing on their personality and value fit among the team/organization, focus on what a candidate can bring to the table that will add to your culture and help move it in the right direction.
Another way an organization can reduce biases related to culture fit interview feedback is by avoiding unstructured interviews by planning in advance. Thus, a structured interview process should be a priority for every interviewer. Interview teams should focus on the following:
Creating a list of core competencies essential to the role. Every interview question should ONLY measure these competencies.
These questions can be a mix of behavioral (“Tell me about a time when…”) and situational questions (“What would you do if….”).
When HR & talent acquisition teams compile feedback, ensure feedback remains relevant towards core competencies of the role and should push back on hiring managers for highlighting superficial traits or blanket statements to reject applicants.
The Startup Conundrum.
It would be inaccurate to imply hiring for culture fit is an irrelevant method of hiring. In fact, a Stanford study found that startup companies that hired for culture fit were significantly less likely to fail and more likely to IPO than those who hired for core competencies. Why? When companies are small and agile with innovative ideas, everyone is working toward one goal and too many differing mindsets may hinder success. However, once those same startups go public, they tend to grow at the slowest rate in terms of annual market capitalization (BuiltIn). What does this mean? When a company that hires for culture fit expands and goes public, innovation plateaus and groupthink dominate the culture.
The Bottom Line.
It is simplistic thinking to eliminate culture fit from the hiring process. Rather, hiring managers, human resources, and talent acquisition leaders must no longer let culture fit be misused as a way to cover interviewers’ biases. When planning to utilize the all-too-common weaponized statement, “They are a great culture fit!” or “They just don’t fit our culture”- prepare to be asked why.
If you want your team to be more innovative and consistently challenging the status quo, focus on making the subjective objective and strive to change the way you think about the term “culture fit”.
Sources: Nick Tuno, SHRM, University of Florida Training & Organizational Development, Caitlin Fitzsimmons, Patty McCord, Wall Street Journal: Sue Shellenbarger, BuiltIn