Culture Add vs. Culture Fit: Which Is Better?

Culture add vs. culture fit: Why is the recruitment process changing towards the former? The bottom line: It promotes a more dynamic workplace.

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Culture Add vs. Culture Fit: Which Is Better?

Culture add vs. culture fit: Which one should be the priority when hiring? Changing how you hire can impact the dynamic of your organization. In light of recent research, organizations have pivoted the hiring process to evaluate candidates based on culture add rather than culture fit. Hiring for “culture add” will better support a diverse, inclusive, and dynamic workplace.

The trend had been “hire for culture, train for skill.” It is based on the concept that businesses can train people with the appropriate soft skills to do a job, but can’t change a person’s ingrained personality. And at a time when three-quarters of workers are reporting that they’ve left a position due to low job satisfaction stemming from a poor cultural fit, getting it right is important.

“Poor cultural fit” can simply mean that a person’s personality and expectations for a job don’t align with the character of the organization’s character or expectations. or what the company expects from employees. The theory is that everyone is different — and varying expectations are natural — but it’s vital to filter out those who do fit from those that don’t during the very early stages of the hiring process. Why? Because the average bad hire costs $14,900.

The winds have shifted in the direction of culture add, however, because the ideals of cultural fit were not being met in practice. In this article, we’ll look at why companies are stressing the importance of culture add when they hire new workers.

The problem with person-organization fit theory 

PO theory, or person-organization fit, is the concept that one of the most critical factors when evaluating a job candidate is the compatibility between the person and organizations. This is partly true. It is essential to hire a person who will fit well into the organizational environment, share the organization’s core values, and get along well with other employees. This can boost productivity and employee retention.

The problem? Many hiring managers do not implement the concept well. Lauren Rivera, a professor of management and organizations at Kellogg University, discussed the dark side of cultural fit in her book, Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs. In her research from 2006 to 2008, she interviewed 120 hiring decision-makers at elite financial, legal, and consulting firms. She found that 82% of managers said that fit is one of the most important qualities in new hires. Yet, only about half had a clear idea of their organizational culture. Only one-third said their company had concrete tools for measuring fit in the hiring process.

Rivera says that most hiring managers understood “culture fit” as focusing on hiring people who look, think, and act like everyone else in the company’s culture. In other words, they hire people who share similar fundamental characteristics on a personal level. In many cases, this can result in discrimination. Environments like this prevent fresh ideas and innovation from flourishing.

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Culture fit, badly applied

Here’s an example of what that might look like.

Jerry, the hiring manager, interviews Greg, a man he recognizes from church. They’re both in their late-40s and from similar backgrounds. In fact, in the interview, Jerry learns that they both have kids studying at the prestigious University of Virginia. Greg doesn’t have many years of experience in the field, but Jerry thinks that he can learn on the job. They finish the interview by talking about how they might see each other at graduation in a few weeks. Jerry decides that Greg will be a good person-organization fit, so he hires him.

Jerry has hired Tim, Grace, and Ben the same way. Now, the company’s current employees are all middle-class people in their 40s who went to prestigious Virginia colleges. This is because Jerry felt a certain interpersonal comfort in the recruitment process. Of course, Jerry should be looking at whether the candidate would be a good fit in the company. Instead, he puts a lot of weight into “gut feelings” he gets from people who look, act, and think like him. He assumes that means they will be a good culture fit for the work environment.

Six months after hiring Greg, his company is having trouble developing fresh ideas and has become stagnant. Employee attitudes are shifting as the company struggles to keep up with modern consumer trends, especially in marketing. This is one of the common negative outcomes when hiring managers misunderstand “culture fit” or “person-environment fit.”

What is culture add vs. culture fit?

Culture add is a new concept for hiring based on applied psychology and interactional organizational research. With culture add, the focus shifts from hiring people who “fit in” to hiring people who add a healthy diversity. That can include skills, experiences, perspectives, background, age, culture, and ideas. This doesn’t mean that you should hire people who are not likely to thrive in your company’s culture or are not a good person-job fit. During the selection process, you can still ensure there’s an organizational commitment to the mission, vision, and values of your company at a high level. When you start with culture add in the hiring process, you’re committing to building a more fair and inclusive workplace with higher organizational satisfaction.

When hiring for cultural add, you ask questions that will best evaluate a candidate’s contextual performance, soft skills, and interpersonal skills. For example, instead of asking “What do you do for fun?” ask “How would you address a disagreement with a coworker?” This can be a helpful indicator when evaluating emotional intelligence. You can also ask, “what’s an example of a time when you solved a difficult problem within your job?” This can evaluate creative problem-solving in employee decision-making.

Corporations are catching on to the shifting hiring trends. According to Gartner’s research, the number of HR leaders identifying diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts as a top priority was 1.8 times higher in 2020 than in 2019. Gartner’s analysis reveals an almost 800% increase in job postings for dedicated diversity recruiters. Clearly, the practical implications of these statistics point to an emphasis on inclusion and diversity at the organizational level.

When hiring for cultural add, you ask questions that will best evaluate a candidate’s contextual performance, soft skills, and interpersonal skills

A different hiring scenario

Jerry has an interview with Gwen. She’s 27, a single mom, and a first-generation immigrant. She went to a small public college in Indiana, where she graduated top of her class. Gwen wears dreadlocks and loves to wear bright-colored clothing. She’s eloquent, creative, and has all the necessary skills and experience outlined in the job requirements.

Jerry’s first impression is that they probably don’t have much in common. But he knows to put that feeling aside and ask meaningful questions. He learns that they both respect, and have worked in accordance with, the organization’s values — clear communication, integrity, and teamwork. Gwen and Jerry do not know whether they align on religion, lifestyle, or politics. However, their shared commitment to company values combined with Gwen’s technical expertise, experience, and bright personality make her the perfect candidate. It’s an excellent person-job fit.

Beyond that, however, Jerry is not only hiring for hard skills and soft skills. He also takes into account that Gwen may be able to bring new ideas and perspectives to the table that no one else can. This is an excellent example of one of the positive outcomes of using culture add in the hiring process. 

While Gwen may not represent a personal “culture fit” from Jerry’s perspective, that’s not important to her job performance and job satisfaction. She would be an excellent supplementary fit to the organizational culture because she brings valuable, new perspectives and has all the necessary expertise for the tasks required.

Culture add vs. culture fit: Changing the hiring landscape

Reframing your hiring process for culture add can enhance the chances that the candidate or recruit will reflect the company’s ethics and values, especially if you focus on these values during the recruitment process.

It can also bring in diverse opinions and specialized skills that will help improve the team and the organization’s culture. When you hire for culture add, seek out applicants who add to it in meaningful ways that may challenge existing structures.

Hiring for cultural fit tends to favor the status quo in the company, whether that relates to race, gender, age, or socioeconomic level. That makes it harder for anyone who doesn’t fit the mold to get into sectors where they may be under-represented. Hiring for culture add shifts the ethical climate from favoritism and discrimination to focusing on organizational needs for diversity, inclusion, and strong core values.

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