Why Hiring For “Culture Add” versus “Culture Fit” Will Empower Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for your Organization

“We love your zeal. We love your enthusiasm. Your resume is impressive. However, we only hire someone after we determine they are the kind of person we can share beers with and go on a weekend camping trip with.” 

I sat stunned. 

I had just missed out on a job opportunity, not because of lack of skills or competency. Rather, I had been passed over because of a pretend future weekend camping trip in which I possibly would not fit in with the rest of the group. 

The company in question hired for, what we call, “culture fit.” 

Does the potential employee dress like us? Does the potential employee talk like us? Does the potential employee think like us? Does the potential employee behave like us? Will he/she cause us any undo tension? 

These are just some questions – spoken or unspoken – that companies ask when hiring for “culture fit.” You may have the right resume, right education and right experience, but if there is a question of your “fitting in” or “playing well in the sandbox,” your chances are slim of landing the job opportunity. 

Certainly, there are some benefits to culture fit. The primary benefit is an environment with much less tension. 

And let’s face it, we all appreciate and live for “culture fit.” Think about it. In our own relationships – whether friendships or romantic in nature – we strive to find people who think like us, talk like us, share the same values we share, have the same education, come from the same backgrounds, etc. You get the idea. In many ways, we desire more of the same. 

Why? Less dissonance.

Think of your own family dynamics. If you grew up in a family with less tension, we carry the belief this is a “healthy” family. On the other hand, if you grew up in a family with more tension and conflict, we tend to refer to this family as a “dysfunctional” family. 

Take this mindset into the work environment and leaders and managers believe they are in the role of “parents” with one of their primary purposes being to lessen the tension so as to not create a dysfunctional work environment. 

The problem, as I see it, is that organizations and companies are not our families, our churches, our fitness centers or the local bar. The organization or company is a group of people working to achieve a desired goal or outcome. 

The organization or company is a place where we should seek a certain element of, what Peter Senge calls, “creative tension.” What is creative tension? Creative tension is the gap between your organizational vision and current reality. 

Creative tension helps organizations and teams be able to grow, evolve and pivot towards their desired future. However, creative tension is harder within an organization that seeks “culture fit” as the primary recruitment policy. 

The philosophy of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is recognizing, respecting, accepting and hiring for differences in the organization, including differing ways of thinking. 

Let’s discuss briefly how “culture fit” could hold back your company and organization. 

WHY HIRING FOR “CULTURE FIT” WILL HINDER THE GROWTH OF YOUR TEAM OR ORGANIZATION

Reinforcement of Biases and Group Think

Over time, every team and culture creates a certain amount of “group think,” the practice of coming to group decisions without critical reasoning or “push back.” Group think is not always negative. There are moments when it is important for a group to be able to “think” and act without having drawn out conversations on the importance of the decision. Military forces around the world operate under the system of group think. This way of thinking and acting ensures quick decisions can be made in the moment of battle. 

The downsides of group think are the inevitable biases that occur when groups lose the ability to empower individual thinking and creative tension. We often see this in the political spectrum on every side of a given issue; people who take on beliefs through conditioning rather than personal observation and research. 

Hiring for culture fit lessens the opportunities for your group or organization to stretch its ways of thinking and seeing the world. 

Loss of Creativity and Innovation

When everyone thinks like everyone else, there is little opportunity for creativity and innovation. People within the team become accustomed to a certain way of thinking. Other ways of thinking can even be discouraged. You may here statements such as, “That’s not the way we do things around here.” Any environment where this statement is made is not going to be an environment conducive to creative and innovative thinking. 

Culture fit can be an enormous detriment to news ways of thinking and opportunities for growth and evolution in your organization. 

Loss of Dissension 

In teams where group think is of high value, dissension is often squelched. Often the leader of the team will state their opinion on an issue or project and then ask, “What does everybody else think?” Usually, dissenting voices will be moved off the team within a matter of weeks or months. 

Culture fit makes life easier for leaders and managers because they do not have to tolerate pushback or challenges to their leadership decisions. However, loss of dissension also creates an environment where new opinions and ideas are not welcomed. In the most dysfunctional of cultures, they are even discouraged. 

So, the question then becomes, how do you hire for “Culture Add” versus “Culture Fit”? 

Let’s begin by defining “Culture Add” and why it can enhance your mission to broaden Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within your organization. 

A mindset of culture fit seeks to find team members who think and act like the current team members. A mindset of culture add seeks to add team members who can add needed elements your culture currently lacks. This takes the idea Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to a deeper level. 

There are many organizations that claim to value DEI because, as they point to, they are filled with people from all backgrounds, beliefs, religions, races and orientations. Yet, when we dig a little deeper into the organizational and team dynamics, we see teams and organizations that may “look different” but actually think the same way when it comes to organizational issues, products or services. Culture add combines the aspects of DEI along with respect and appreciation for different ways of thinking around the mission and vision of the organization. 

Let’s dive in on how to recruit and hire for “culture add.” 

HOW TO HIRE FOR CULTURE-ADD VERSUS CULTURE-FIT

Hire on Purpose 

A little play on words here meaning: (1) Hire intentionally and (2) hire those who match your team or organizational purpose and mission. 

Be intentional in your recruitment process of finding people who will add a new and necessary dynamic to your culture. Before moving forward on the hiring process, take a cultural assessment to determine where your pain points and weaknesses may center. This assessment will help you better understand what you are looking for in addition to any organizational needs that will be necessary to help make your culture more effective. 

Most importantly, hire people who are committed and dedicated to your organizational purpose and vision and ascribe to your values. This is the most important aspect of hiring for “culture add.” Any person you bring to the team must be connect deeply with the direction of your organization.

Hire Outsiders 

Yes, of course, hire people from outside of the organization. But what we are referencing here is the importance of being open to hiring people from outside of your current industry. If you are a financial firm looking for a marketing or social media director, hire from the legal or tech field. Find someone who has been successful in the non-profit space and hire them. These hires will not only be able to bring new eyes to your organization, but also new insights to your industry. 

Hire Nonconformists

Another way to look at this is through the lens of positive deviance, hiring someone who has used – and will use – uncommon but successful behaviors and strategies to accomplish the mission. In other words, hire “the weird ones.” Hire the eccentric ones. Hire the brilliant ones you may never want to “grab a beer with” or “go camping with” but who have the right skills to help elevate your culture in order to accomplish the task at hand. 

Hire High-Performers

This is controversial for some leaders. High-performers come with their own share of challenges. Often, they do not play well in the sandbox, they are hard to manage, they can be persnickety and they may even challenge your leadership philosophies and decisions. Yet, high-performers are just that – high performing. If given the right opportunity and right management (empowering management), they will help to carry your team and organization to new heights. 

If you put aside the weakness of pettiness, these high-performing employees can raise the performance of your team, lift the effectiveness of your organization and make you a stronger and more centered leader. 

The question for you, the leader, is, “How do you move from a culture fit mindset to a culture add mindset?” Even more, how do you move your team in the direction of the mindset of culture add? 

THE JOB OF THE LEADER IN BECOMING A “CULTURE ADD” TEAM

Prepare 

Begin with a serious, intentional and long-term discussion on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Define it for them. Ask for their input. Read a book on DEI together or watch a video and discuss the issue with them. Bring in a DEI consultant to advise and guide you and your team. Whatever you decide, do not rush the process. Take as long as you need to move the team forward. Value their input. Gain their buy-in. They will be most impacted by this decision to become a “culture add” team. Do not rush them, but make clear that, in time, this is the direction of the team. 

Most importantly, help your team members know they will continue to be a part of the process of recruitment. Their feedback and expertise in recruiting and hiring team members will still be valid. It must be. However, as a team, it is imperative they begin to think in terms of “culture add” versus “culture fit.” 

Manage Tension

Welcome to your newest responsibility as a leader of a “culture add” team; managing the inevitable tension that will come when recruitment means the newer people on the team may not get along with the more veteran members of the team. In this process of managing tension, do your best to help both your veterans and newer members. Make it clear to the newer members they would be wise to heed the advice of the veterans on certain issues. Never get involved directly in minor squabbles. Teach and empower your team members to overcome issues among themselves. Help them to become interdependent on each other, not you. 

During the transition, your greatest role will be to help facilitate open and honest dialogue as a way of managing the tension on your team. 

Above all, never take anything personal. This team that you will have worked to develop will look different and will challenge you in ways you never imagined. 

Remember, it is always and only about the purpose, vision and the mission of the organization. It is never about you. 

Keep the Culture Moving in a Forward Direction 

Always, keep the purpose and vision in front of the team, especially when tension exists. While team members may not agree on inter-team dynamics, they should all be in full agreement on the purpose and vision of the organization and direction of the team. Keep them grounded there. Keep their heads above the water. Help them to see the forest and not simply the trees. As often as you can, take them to the 30,000-foot level and soar with them. Keep them moving in a forward direction. 

Be patient with them and with yourself. The process of change is hard, especially when it surrounds the issue of DEI. 

If you intend to lead a truly diverse, equitable and inclusive culture, it starts with mindset; the way you think as a leader and as a group. Accept all people – and ways of thinking – and your team and organization will be better and wiser for it. 

Rise Higher,

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