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Culture Fit vs Culture Add in the Hiring Process

Published: Friday 22nd November 2019

“There’s an inherent question mark around looking for someone who fits in with an existing culture. As opposed to looking for someone who adds value to that culture which I think is a very different thing. You don’t want to have a group of people that are all very similar. You want to have people with differences of opinions who each bring something unique to the table.”

Rich Cobbold, EMEA Recruitment Specialist for Google Cloud, speaking on Venturi’s Voice. 

In the current candidate-driven job market, employers are finding themselves digging deeper to attract the best talent, who know that their salary could be matched anywhere.

Quality of life incentives, like remote working, flexible hours, gym memberships and more are dominating the landscape as companies look to gain these small margins that can tip the talent scale in their favour.

Culture, a word that has come to mean so much and so little at the same time, is also something that has emerged as being a leading force in this all-out charge for the best talent. The idea that a company is a collective, unified by a clear mission statement that drives everything they do from where they go after work on a Friday to how they close a deal has started to sink into the hiring process.

But when does hiring for only those who fit in with your idea of what’s good for your company become restrictive? When should you be looking for ‘culture add’, as opposed to ‘culture fit’?

This article seeks to weigh up each side of the spectrum so you can come to your own conclusion.

Workplace Culture on Mechanism of Golden Metallic Cog Gears

What is Company Culture and Why is it Needed in the Hiring Process? 

Company culture as a concept means different things to different companies. But the idea that culture is defined by slides in the office and beers on Friday isn’t strictly true.

“The culture isn’t bean bags and football tables, it’s a physical manifestation of a point of view of what’s valuable. It’s recognising that everyone works in different ways and they’re not always mechanist.”

Matt McNeill, Customer Engineering Director, Google Cloud UK&IE, spoke to Venturi earlier this year.

Rather, culture is, as Matt puts it, the banner that your company rallies under. It’s a compass that guides hires through their time at your company.

Because most companies aren’t just looking for candidates with the right skills – they want someone that matches their company’s DNA. The rationale is that these candidates will gel better with the rest of the team, ramp faster and add more value as employees.

They’re not going to rock the boat. They’ll fit right into the culture that you’re building.

Culture Fit Vs Culture Add 

Having a clearly defined idea of what a good ‘culture fit’ looks like sounds great on paper, but there is a problem; adding people with exactly the same values, ideas and approaches as your team can be dangerous.

It’s easy to create a “me-too” environment where everyone thinks and acts in the same way, not typically an environment where ideas and innovation flourish.

Below, we’re exploring the two sides of the culture coin. Weighing up the pros and cons of each to help you make your own decision:

Culture Fit 

Success and winning concept - happy business team celebrating victory in office - company culture

Looking past job requirements when weighing up a candidate. Prevailing wisdom suggests that this is an important part of finding a hire that plays well and stays well. Instead of looking at a list of candidate qualifications and skills, you’re evaluating the full package.

Culture fit has therefore been accepted with open arms as a key component of the interview process and plays a critical role in the hiring decisions of most organisations.

Here are some of the main reasons why hiring managers take a culture fit approach to hiring.

A Roadmap For Staff, Set From The Very Top

According to Robert Walters, 88% of employees believe that senior management are the ones responsible for shaping culture, beating HR (47%) and comms (20%).

It’s these senior figures that often formulate the companies culture and, companies who lead successful companies, let these senior figures drive it from the very top through their actions.

Taking a ‘culture fit’ approach will, in effect, create a paragon for your business. A northern star for your new hires to follow.

This isn’t about moulding your new hires into the shape of someone else, it’s about having examples to frame behaviour and achievement in.

Keep The Ship Steady

When you’re going through a period of extreme growth, it’s important you hire the right people.

In fact, in particularly delicate periods, bad hires can completely derail your operation.

In some cases, an echo-chamber of your company values is exactly what you need as you find your feet in your industry.

Hiring for culture fit keeps the ship steady by reducing the number of clashing voices joining a team at any one time.

The Dangers of Culture Fit Approach to Hiring

Business management challenges concept as a businessman holding a cube trying to make it fit in a round hole as a symbol of overcoming obstacles and adversity through strategy and strong leadership.

 

According to this Forbes article, Facebook banned the term ‘Culture Fit’ for good several years ago. Their reason? The restrictive nature of the term.

The word ‘fit’ implies that you have a design you’re working to and need the right pieces to complete it.

But, oftentimes, the aspects that make great talent great are the aspects that separate them from their peers. And, it’s only when we change the shape of the holes to fit square pegs do we actually grow as a collective.

Reinforces A Lack of Diversity

In some rare cases, culture fit can be weaponised and used as an excuse to avoid hiring someone.

In those cases, the ugly side of culture rears it’s head. Criteria too rigid, or in some cases, toxic, can skew a hiring manager’s perspective, harming the overall diversity of talent and experience in their team.

Just as a good hiring manager will read between the lines of a candidates experience to find their suitability, a good hiring manager thinks of ‘culture fit’ criteria like a pair of elasticated pants – they’ve got a bit of room for those who might not normally fit either way.

Passing Up Great Talent

Talent comes in all shapes and sizes. We’ve all heard the terms. Rockstar Developers. Marketing Ninjas. These are the types of people who are highly skilled and, in some cases, incredibly polarising.

Asking the right questions at interview will identify what value a candidate would bring, even if it isn’t aligned with your business and having incredibly strict ‘culture fit’ criteria will sometimes mean you’ll be passing up the best talent.

Restricts Team Development

Mentoring is proven to drive rich learning and development for mentees. Employees may naturally feel hesitant about approaching a manager or coworker for advice. It’s usually much easier to turn to a mentor for career guidance, interpersonal development, and to learn about company inner workings. Although it may seem like a small thing, this can have a huge impact.

The fact of the matter is that we learn so much from those around us – especially when they have a fundamentally different perspective on something.

Nick Westall, CTO at CACI, joined us in Venturi’s Voice Slack on the 28th of March to host an ‘Ask Me Anything’ around the subject of mentoring.

He talked about the power of mentorship and how having a diverse range of experiences and understandings is key to a good mentor/mentee relationship.

Culture Add

Businessman hand pressing icon of media screen - culture add concept.

With a ‘culture fit’ approach you’re looking for the pieces that fit your pre-existing design.

A ‘culture add’ approach involves finding great pieces and adding them to your design, and, as a result, changing that design.

Let’s You Hire For Today and Tomorrow 

Albert Einstein said:

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

In many ways, this quote sums up why diversity in teams matters. Today, due the increasing pace of change, new challenges and problems emerge faster than ever before. Those businesses that fail to solve them will fall behind and eventually fail.

Approaching new hires with a ‘what can you add to my culture’ mindset will free you to look at the bigger picture and assess their value with an eye to the future – solving potential problems before they even arise.

Hiring Managers Know Best

There’s a reason we let the managers do the hiring. They have an intimate knowledge of the working relationships in their teams and, as much as we try and deny it, silo nature within large businesses is something that we will struggle to breakdown.

Rather than restricting those who know their teams the best, we should be breaking off the shackles of a ‘Culture fit’ doctrine.

This will enable them to make the right decision for their team.

Diversification Improves Your Bottom Line

An inability to see a situation from a variety of perspectives often results in repeated attempts to force square pegs into a round holes.

Diversity is critical to an organisation’s ability to adapt to a fast changing environment. In Darwinian terms, diversity makes an organisation much “fitter”. Diversity breeds innovation and innovation breeds success.

The Danger of A Culture Add Approach to Hiring

Hand Shaking Gesture of Oil Painted Hands Diversity concept

You might fear ending up with a bit of a Frankenstein’s Monster of cultures; a hastily assembled troop of different personalities.

Sophie Seiwald, MD of Mercedes-Benz.io, faced this very issue when she was tasked with bringing together 3 different subsidiaries to form the digital branch of the popular car brand.

“There were suddenly so many different voices in the room.”

What many might see as a ‘wipe and reset’ moment for company culture, Sophie wanted to use this unique opportunity to learn as much as she could about the new acquisitions before making decisions on culture.

In Summary

Both approaches bring value in their own form, and in most cases, companies attracting the best talent will have a hybrid approach for finding the right fit for their teams.

Taking lessons from both approaches and finding something that works for your business and the hiring managers in it will almost always be the right way to go about it.

About the Author:

Jamie Kehoe is the Digital Content Manager at Venturi, he loves to share his thoughts and opinions about staffing, technology and content marketing.

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