Hiring For Culture Fit or Culture Add?

Soft skills are important, especially at the executive level. Soft skills are arguably more important than technical skills for leaders. When hiring new executives, the term culture fit is often used, and with good reason, their impact on the company will be significant, good or bad. Yet culture fit can be used to mask poor hiring practices as often as it is used to find candidates who will help you thrive. Are you hiring for culture fit or culture add?

Harvard Business Review (HBR) defines culture fit in the following traditional sense, “Culture fit is the likelihood that someone will reflect and be able to adapt to the core beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that make up your organization.” A recent article from OpenView got us thinking about the changing nature of the term.

In it they write, “If you travel in HR circles, you’ve probably heard the demands to stop hiring for ‘culture fit.’ Experts like Amplify Founder, Lars Schmidt, say the term has become a weapon for interviewers who unfairly reject candidates who don’t look like them. Then there’s organizational psychologist Scott Highhouse who (after much research) called subjective hiring “the greatest failure of I-O (industrial and organizational) psychology.” And more recently, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) made a public call for the end of the ‘Beer Test’ in favor of hiring for culture add.”

They bring up an excellent point. Limiting the idea of culture fit to people who think like you or people you’d like to have a beer with does not do the term justice. If you’re making hiring decisions like this or based on your gut feel, you’re being subjective and using a subconscious bias in your decision making, instead of looking for the person who will help you take your business to new places.

A new term, ‘culture add’ is beginning to replace culture fit. OpenView defines culture add as, “The likelihood that someone will not only reflect the company’s values and professional ethics, but also bring an aspect of diverse opinions, experiences, and specialized skill which enhances not just the team, but the overall company culture.”

Culture add brings diversity into the equation. We’ve written about diversity before and the benefits it adds to the organization. A Wharton business school study found that the greater the diversity of functional leadership, the greater the average market-adjusted financial return.

When hiring for culture fit or culture add, it is more than semantics. If you are focused on growth, and we assume you are, you have to review your hiring methodologies and make sure you’re considering candidates who don’t look, act, or think like you. A resume is just the beginning. At the leadership level, that is table stakes. What you are looking for is a great match to the needs of the role not just today, but in the future.

Consider what transferable skills they have. Ask questions specific to the role to see how their response demonstrates their thinking and approach. Do they show lateral thinking capabilities? Do they show a different way of thinking about problems you’re facing that could spark new innovations? This is something a good executive recruiter can help you with as it requires more in-depth interview preparation than simply determining if you feel good about the person. The time you invest in it will pay dividends for years to come by hiring people you may not always grab a beer with, rather people you develop respect for and help build the business in new ways.

To learn more about Sheer Velocity’s approach to determining the best candidates for your culture, send us a note. Our executive recruiters are trained on Hogan Assessments as well as our proprietary Corporate Cultural Alignment Survey, that facilitates a dialog to ensure the candidate is adding to your culture and not subtracting from it.