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Down with culture fit! Long live culture add!

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In the uncomfortably recent past, a phenomenon swept the world of recruitment in which individuals who were deemed a good “Culture Fit” were considered the best candidates. In essence the idea was that, provided the person would fit into your team (or company “culture”), you could train them in what they were lacking. A well-meaning, if not slightly misguided, concept.

However, the idea has suffered pretty critically because it actually presents an opportunity to conceal flagrant discrimination under the guise of “maintaining the culture”. For example, a close relative shared with me that they had recently been turned down multiple times for a position in a different team whilst working for a large pharmaceutical company because the company didn’t deem them a culture fit with the younger “chattier” team members. Ultimately - in situations like this - qualifications, experience and ability to do the job are overlooked in favour of biased stereotypes, based on age, race, gender or any other characteristic.

Beyond the front for discrimination, Culture Fit is based on the presumption that the best business is full of like-minded or similar people. In an imaginary scenario where an ad agency is full of 30 or 40 somethings who are all sporty and outgoing, the notion is that more sporty and outgoing 30 or 40 somethings will keep everything ticking along nicely. This is an outdated (and slightly confusing) assumption with mountains of research opposing it. Here’s why:

Diversity Is Quite Literally Good for Business.

More diverse companies are more innovative and ultimately more profitable. The variation of different backgrounds and perspectives enables a mixing pot of cultures - something that allows for more intelligent teams, faster and more complex solutions to problems, more well-rounded products, more inclusive audiences, and a more desirable working environment.

Not only that, but - and it’s kind of obvious - you’re excluding people. Some will be alienated by an office of carbon copies, AND you’ll be intentionally turning perfectly qualified candidates away because they aren’t like you - so your entire hiring pool becomes drastically smaller. A needless handicap for growing a company.

So What’s the Solution?

For a start, we need to stop Culture Fit hiring in its tracks. It’s an idea that has been misunderstood and now seems to do more harm than good. Then, we need to start talking more about Culture Add.

Put simply Culture Add flips Culture Fit on its head. Instead of seeing difference as a weakness, it encourages seeing the value. Culture Add is asking “What can this person bring to the table?” as opposed to “Does this person fit the mould?”. In our ad agency scenario of sporty outgoing 30-40 somethings, Culture Add breaks the cycle of hiring more of the same, advocating the benefit of new experiences, new insights, and new ways of thinking.

Despite any (tenuous) evidence to the contrary, the modern world of work hinges on difference. No longer are workers cookie-cutter clones pushed off the education conveyor belt and into paper-pusher roles, if they ever really were.

So when you’re hiring for Culture Add, consider the individual. How their experience, relevant or otherwise, can be advantageous. Interview people that see the world differently, and who have lived differently. Seek out positive deviance and new ideas. Evaluate each person on what they can add to the company, not just how they’ll slot in between the last two hires.

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