Culture Add vs. Culture Fit: Why Everything You Know About Culture Fit Is Wrong

The concept of hiring for culture fit is so ingrained in our hiring lexicon that assessing candidates based on this idea has become part of many organizations’ “best practices.”

It’s actually a deeply problematic practice.

The problem starts with how we define the term “culture fit.” The absence of a structured, objective approach to understanding and defining what “fit” means leaves the door wide open for bias to create an environment that lacks diversity on many levels.

Searching for candidates who are “like me” and calling them a good cultural fit creates a false narrative that breeds misalignment and homogeneity, both of which are bad for business.

A business that cannot agree on what it’s looking for from hires is unlikely to assemble an optimal workforce, while companies excluding diverse viewpoints will probably struggle in figuring out how to execute on their diversity and inclusion goals.

By contrast, the concept of “culture add” shifts the framework away from hiring more of the same types of people based on subjective evaluations to objectively looking for people with different thinking styles and experiences that can round out a team and make it more effective.

Here’s why you should shift your hiring processes away from culture fit and get on board with the idea of culture add instead.

Creating Space for Fresh Perspectives

Cloning the team members you already have based on organizational folklore will get you nowhere. Instead of perpetuating the homogeneity you already have, new hires should bring fresh perspectives and diverse experiences to the table. And while demographic diversity is a valued goal that justifiably garners a lot of attention, it is far from the only beneficial type of diversity.

“Culture add” offers an expanded definition of diversity to include the sum total of a variety of different types of diversity that combine to allow individuals to make a “cultural contribution” to their team and organization.

Cultural contribution is the essence of “culture add” and speaks to a more comprehensive view of an individual that goes beyond demographic diversity by including additional components such as:

  • Cognitive diversity: This term refers to hiring persons who can complement a team via diversity of thought. Hiring individuals from a completely different industry, or career path, for instance, can inject new points of view that can unlock innovation and help teams overcome obstacles.
  • Experiential diversity: This term refers to the impact that unique life experiences have in shaping our worldview. These unique experiences have a formative impact on how each of us sees the world and also allows individuals to leverage their life experiences to develop strategies for overcoming obstacles and creating innovative solutions.

Beyond seeking out diversity, “culture add” means using carefully planned, objective processes to hire candidates who can maintain and express their unique qualities in an effective and productive way.

Supporting a More Objective Hiring Process

Hiring for culture fit using the typical script can leave the door wide open for unconscious bias

while also negatively impacting business results.

Hiring for “culture add” requires creating the proper foundation that begins with first collecting objective data about what candidates CAN do, what they WANT to do.

Finding the CAN DO means systematically evaluating applicants using objective measures of the raw knowledge, skill sets and abilities that they bring to the table. Unlike resumes, which can perpetuate biases, traditional assessments are a great way to collect critical foundational information about candidates in a fair and objective way.

Finding the WANTS TO DO is all about alignment between the individual’s values and those of the company. For instance, individuals who value working in an innovative environment may find it hard to get excited about working for a company that is focused on maintaining the status quo.

This type of misalignment can kill motivation and drive, even amongst employees who have all the abilities required to do the job. Tailored assessments and structured interviews are a great way to collect objective data about values congruence.

“Culture add” also means looking for individuals who have a trait known as “cultural adaptability.” Individuals with high levels of cultural adaptability are hard-wired to be able to move in and out of different cultures without friction, fitting productively within any team while still contributing their own fresh perspectives. Interviews and assessments that target cultural adaptability can provide hiring managers with solid data about where each candidate stands on this important trait.

Executing “culture add” is not easy; it takes a certain level of maturity that begins with each hiring manager’s awareness of his or her team’s characteristics and the motivation to buy into objective data about each candidate’s potential to make a cultural contribution.

Culture Add Helps Team Building

“Culture add” lives at the team level and adding to a team’s culture is all about identifying what a team lacks and then adding new members who can bring these things to the table.

“Culture add” asks the hiring manager to evaluate each candidate relative to their existing team and determine what new factor the candidate brings.

The “last mile” of the hiring process relies on hiring managers to make sound final decisions about a candidate. When hiring managers make their own judgments about cultural fit, the last mile becomes a failure point that opens the door for decisions to be made based on subjective judgments such as the “like me” bias that ends up perpetuating homogeneity and groupthink.

HR and talent acquisition can implement recruiting processes that minimize bias, but lack of buy-in during the last mile will negate all of the work done to create a fair hiring process.

The goal is to get hiring managers excited about the value that “culture add” provides, providing them with tools needed to understand their team’s strengths and weaknesses, and equipping them with the objective data they need to evaluate what each applicant can add.

Executing “culture add” is not an easy thing to do. Understanding the differences between “culture add” and culture fit takes hard work, planning and a self-critical eye.

But it is the right thing to do because celebrating the individuality of workers while harnessing it to support growth and productivity is the stuff that forms lasting bonds and motivates everyone to give their very best.

When it comes to figuring out how to hire for “culture add,” the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.