Why Hiring for Culture Fit Isn’t So Great

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Culture fit – even companies that are deeply committed to having a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture still use this term without fully understanding its implications. It’s so common to hear people say they want to hire for ‘culture fit’. A company might define their culture as inclusive, warm, welcoming, fun, and hard working, and who wouldn’t want to work with others who fit that culture?

Here’s the issue – the underlying implication behind culture fit can speak more to how a company operates day to day and increase the likelihood of unintended and unconscious bias. Culture fit implies that there are specific ways that people should expect to behave that have nothing to do with a person’s actual job. ‘Hard working’ is a broad term, but the company’s culture might be to expect employees to work until 10pm. That’s not going to fit parents’ schedules. ‘Having fun’ can mean that the team regularly goes out for drinks, but that’s not going to work well for someone who doesn’t drink. Being ‘warm’ and ‘welcoming’ might mean that it’s expected that you go along with what everyone else says so you’re seen as a ‘team player’, but the result is that any pushback against groupthink, or alternative viewpoints might not be valued. If you’re looking to hire for those specific attributes, there’s a real danger that by doing so, your company will have created a homogeneous environment lacking in diversity. Studies have shown that this practice can hurt the company’s bottom line.

So, how can you ensure that you’re not perpetuating the negative side of culture fit, while still bringing in people who align with your company? We encourage you to identify what the company’s values are, and look to find people who embody and share those values. We like the term value fit as a way to more clearly express what the company’s values are and how they connect with the people who make up that company and culture. You can use words such as respect, empathy, accountability, transparency, integrity, and passion. People’s individual expressions of those terms can then be layered on top of these values to create a culture add for the company.

While you’re at it, other than eliminating the words ‘that person is/isn’t a culture fit’ from your hiring processes, you might want to look out for other phrases that could expose unconscious bias in your hiring. “I’ve got a good/bad gut feeling about someone”, “I wouldn’t want to hang out with that person”, or “They remind me of myself when I was that age” are all potential indicators that forms of bias, that have nothing to do with that person being a great asset to the team and the company, may have crept into your processes.

Ultimately, eliminating culture fit from your vocabulary and processes might end up meaning that it takes more time to find the right person, but finding someone who is a great culture add and values fit could be exactly what your company needs to grow.