Culture add: a vital partner to culture fit in hiring

Posted 05/18/21 Farah Hottle

Maintaining a “culture fit” approach to hiring can set businesses back in their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Companies must focus on “culture add” and “culture fit” to foster a work environment that reflects true DEI. 

Diversity and inclusion strategies have become a vital part of company culture for organizations around the world. And for good reason. A diverse and inclusive work environment fosters engagement, creativity, and a sense of belonging among all employees. Over time, an inclusive environment can increase employee retention and loyalty, improve a company’s visibility among socially conscious investors, and contribute to an overall positive reputation in the general public. 

Great DEI initiatives also lead to better performance: new research shows that companies with diverse and inclusive teams outperform, innovatively and financially, those with a more homogenous workforce.

Like all positive initiatives, DEI has evolved over the years, and with that evolution comes a few challenges, such as:

  • how to expand DEI initiatives beyond the topics of gender and ethnicity
  • how to continually foster and train teams in DEI
  • how to create a strong focus on diversity hiring

In addressing these challenges, one pitfall that many organizations experience is heightened focus on hiring for culture fit vs. hiring for culture add.   

Culture fit in hiring practices

In the 1980s, one of the biggest topics in business was organizational culture—specifically, the seemingly positive impact of ensuring alignment between a company’s core values and its employees. Multiple books, psychological studies, and influential articles explored how a company’s culture could influence the success, happiness, and loyalty of its employees and significantly contribute to the organization’s long-term financial performance.

Suddenly, companies everywhere focused on establishing a unique culture and maintaining it via likeminded team members. When it came time to hire, organizations were concerned with a candidate’s skillset, experience and, moreover, how well they would reflect and embrace the company’s values, beliefs, and expectations. 

When hiring for culture fit creates challenges

In an ideal world, a strong “culture fit” would mean a candidate who reflects and upholds a company’s essential values. The reality is often more complex. Many companies haven’t clearly articulated the pillars of their culture in terms of evaluating candidates.

As a result, hiring managers have few concrete methods for weighing different personality traits and qualities during the hiring process. This lack of structure can cause hiring teams to display affinity bias—the tendency to get along with and prefer people who are similar to themselves. In the end, they may end up prioritizing candidates who share their interests or have similar backgrounds. 

In this scenario, a good culture fit actually means “someone who is like me.” Over time, stacking a team with members who have the same interests and backgrounds can stifle creativity and even alienate members who are different. This can create big challenges for companies that want to prioritize DEI and open communication among their teams. 

This isn’t to say that considering culture fit during hiring is an entirely bad thing; when done right, it’s an important tool for finding team members who will thrive and be happy within an organization. But culture fit alone isn’t enough to create engaged, loyal, and innovative teams.

Enter the missing piece of the puzzle…culture add. 

Culture add: moving towards the future

It’s difficult for a company’s culture to advance if the same type of person is making all the decisions. This is why culture fit needs to be supplemented and improved by a new thought process: culture add. Culture add reframes the hiring process so that candidates are evaluated on their alignment with core values and the new perspective they bring to the table. 

Hiring for culture add can reduce unconscious bias in the hiring process by prioritizing qualities or experiences that are underrepresented within current teams or departments. 

Widening the candidate sourcing process to connect with and attract individuals of varying race, gender, age, ability, veteran status, and ethnicity leads to finding candidates who have unique perspectives, experiences, and opinions—and who will be able to drive a company’s culture forward instead of simply maintaining it.

Ina Dwyer, a leader in DEI at Vaco, emphasizes the importance of adopting an approach that incorporates both culture fit and culture add: 

“A focus on ‘culture add’ results in hiring optimal talent and ensuring companies foster an inclusive environment. With ‘culture add’ in mind, an underrepresented perspective becomes more important to an organization and results in hiring employees who bring something different to the company that doesn’t currently exist. People will be identified who align with the company’s values and bring the aspect of diversity that positively impacts the company. The choice is not necessarily between a focus on ‘culture fit’ or ‘culture add’…the choice is to adopt both or remain with the constraints of a ‘culture fit’ mentality.”

Embracing the change

When it comes to diversity and inclusion in company culture, changing the narrative means being open to vulnerable, honest conversations. These conversations can be challenging, but the first step to improvement is acknowledging that there’s room to improve. And the discussion of “Culture Add” in the interview process as an evaluative framework helps put these discussions into an operational framework that comports with standard hiring best practices.

Vaco promotes the continuous development of an inclusive, diverse, and equitable environment. Looking for diverse talent to add to your inclusive team? Contact Vaco—we’d be honored to join your journey.

Farah Hottle is a Talent Acquisition Leader and Diversity & Inclusion Advocate at Vaco.

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