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3 reasons you should stop hiring for “culture fit”

And why you should hire for “culture add” instead.

3 reasons you should stop hiring for “culture fit”
[Photo: Olav Ahrens Røtne/Unsplash]

Several years ago, more and more companies started to prioritize building a mission-driven workplace. By extension, they began to hire for “culture fit” to ensure that every candidate they hire buys into their vision.

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But today, critics claim it reinforces lack of diversity, creates corporate monocultures, and feeds groupthink. Facebook has prohibited the use of the term “culture fit” when interviewers provide feedback on candidates, according to a Forbes article.

Yes, hiring for culture fit alone is problematic, because doing so won’t ensure a dynamic, innovative, and future-focused organization. As a chief people officer, I prefer to look for “culture add.” This concept lets me assess a candidate’s ability to thrive in the organization as it is today, and to help the organization grow into what it wants to be.

Here are three reasons why I avoid hiring solely for culture fit:

1)  It reinforces a lack of diversity

The biggest drawback for hiring for culture fit is that it encourages homogeneity. As Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic previously wrote for Fast Company, while culture fit is “typically evaluated in terms of candidates’ values, style, or background, such qualities are generally folded into demographic and socioeconomic factors.” As a result, managers may subconsciously make decisions based on whether or not the candidate looks like everyone else.

Diversity is good for business and is simply the right thing to pursue. Diversity is the opposite of sameness, and sameness is the enemy of innovation. If sameness permeates a company, unconscious bias can infiltrate more decisions, and companies risk missing other perspectives and abilities to drive change.

2)  We miss out on great talent

At Red Hat, almost 50% of hires are recommended by existing associates. It’s rewarding to know that that our associates consider Red Hat a great place to work and refer their contacts. But we also know that people tend to refer candidates from their existing work, school, and social networks, who may have similar backgrounds and experiences.

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When we hire for culture fit, we might miss out on great talent because they’re not in our existing network.

3) It increases risk of passing unintended bias into products

Lack of diversity in the artificial intelligence community, for instance, has been cited as a challenge to improve the accuracy of facial recognition software. The first airbags, designed by men with men in mind, were more dangerous for women and children. If hiring for culture fit leads to unconscious bias in who we hire, that bias is probably going to carry through to the product they design.

Why looking for culture add makes sense

Despite good reasons to avoid hiring only for culture fit, determining whether a candidate is suitable for a company requires some consideration of it.

Several years ago, Red Hat experienced a period of quickly losing too many new hires. What went wrong? We determined that some hires didn’t fully grasp Red Hat’s unique culture before they took the job. Red Hat is an open organization with an open culture. This means the best ideas win no matter who they come from, and executives can’t expect to get their way by merely throwing titles around. Either the new hires didn’t understand these types of factors before they took the job or interviewers weren’t being transparent enough. In short, we hired people who didn’t fit the Red Hat culture, and it didn’t work out–for them or Red Hat.

But we knew that we couldn’t conduct an artificial culture fit assessment. So we decided to assess for a culture-add perspective and asked the following questions:

  • Will they be effective in our environment, today and tomorrow? Given the talent crunch, it’s tempting to hire someone who’ll get quickly up to speed because they fit the company as it exists. But you want a workforce that’s inspired to learn, grow, and be able and willing to adapt as the company and the business landscape changes. This means hiring for such things as a thirst for knowledge, curiosity, adaptability, and potential.
  • Will they embrace our structures and processes? Now that Red Hat has 13,000 associates, Red Hat is a different place than when it was a scrappy startup. We have more established processes across our global footprint. We understand that not all employees prefer a structured workplace. However, we need people who embrace our current structures and processes and understand that they help us be a better company.
  • Will they take away from the culture? A candidate may not, for example, be super comfortable with Red Hat’s open organization. That either means they’re not the right hire, or we need to have a frank discussion of the challenges they might face and how they might address them. Always honor the red flag that shows up in an interview and investigate it so that you are fully aware of what it entails.
  • Does their purpose align with the purpose of the company? One reason Red Hat is so successful is that our associates are passionate about what we do, how we do it, and who we are. New hires need that, too, and must understand and value what it means to work at Red Hat. Alignment on purpose keeps the organization focused, even as individual methods and preferences change.

Assessing for culture fit can unintentionally encourage managers to pick candidates that look like everyone else. But looking for culture add helps managers to determine how a candidate’s individuality and differences can make a company better and stronger. That’s the first step in making a great hire.

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DeLisa Alexander is the chief people officer and executive vice president of Red Hat.

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