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Is It Time To Rethink Basing Hiring Decisions On “Culture Fit"?

The conventional wisdom is that you hire for culture fit. The thinking is that you want to find candidates that will fit the culture of the organization. These candidates will be better team players, more productive, more engaged, and will stay with the organization longer.

There are a lot of smart minds in the HR leadership space who are now saying that hiring for “culture fit” may not be the best strategy after all.

A recent Harvard Business Review article “How To Hire” by the always on target Patty McCord (former Chief Talent Officer for Netflix and now a very in-demand consultant) challenged many of the perspectives that I had around how to hire and build high-performance teams successfully.

In the article, Patty McCord calls out what she says are many of the faulty assumptions that companies have about hiring. Through the great examples, she provides from her experience at Netflix, McCord provides a new way of thinking about how all of us hire

One hiring assumption that Patty McCord tackles head-on is the hiring strategy based on the “culture fit” of a candidate. She sums it up this way:

“Finding the right people is also not a matter of “culture fit.” What most people really mean when they say someone is a good fit culturally is that he or she is someone they’d like to have a beer with.
But people with all sorts of personalities can be great at the job you need to be done . This misguided hiring strategy can also contribute to a company’s lack of diversity since very often the people we enjoy hanging out with have backgrounds much like our own.
Making great hires is about recognizing great matches—and often they’re not what you’d expect”.

What Patty McCord is telling us is that hiring for “culture fit” will hinder bringing in a diverse set of opinions and skill sets. This can also lead to suppression of hiring a broader

cross-cultural and multi-ethnic workforce (yes this happens – look at the lack of diversity in start-ups and tech firms).

Does this all mean that culture is not important? Of course not.

An article in CIO magazine appropriately titled “How To Keep “Culture Fit” From Killing Workplace Diversity.” Outlines how firms can continue to focus on building and maintaining their culture without creating a workplace of sameness and conformity:

“By focusing on concrete values instead of a vague notion of culture, larger, established organizations are having greater success moving the needle on both culture and diversity and inclusion (D&I), says Anka Wittenberg, chief diversity and inclusion officer and SVP at  SAP .”
“If you’re hiring only for cultural fit, it’s like planting a forest with only one kind of tree — you get a monoculture. It’s not sustainable; so we focus on what our values are as a company, and how each individual we consider hiring embody those. We don’t hire specifically for culture fit, but on how those values are lived by candidates,” Wittenberg says.”

The article additionally discusses how Intel can balance culture/values with diversity.

“Intel, focuses on having an intersectional hiring team working to source and screen intersectional candidates, says Barb Whye, vice president of human resources and chief diversity and inclusion officer at  Intel , and to ensure candidates are in line with
Intel’s values from the start.”
 First and foremost, we operate based on our value systems. We hire based on whether or not candidates are innovative, results-oriented, accountable, driven, and whether they can demonstrate open, honest communication skills .
Part of that inclusive methodology is that, yes, we have a diverse panel of interviewers, but we also demand diverse candidates.
Another thing: We require that a formal job requisition is always posted; none of this sliding in candidates based on their friendship with an employee, or getting around our process. And that goes all the way from the highest executive levels down,” Whye says.”

Is it time to rethink having “culture fit” be the basis for making your next hiring decision? The answer is yes if you want to create a diverse workplace that embraces the full spectrum of people who can excel in the position. It is also important to note that “culture fit” and “values” can get mixed up. When it comes to hiring for values, organizations should seek out uniformity because they want everyone to embrace the key values which guide the organization.

The following excerpt from the LinkedIn Rundown summarizes why we should rethink hiring based on "fit".

Hiring people like you might feel nice, but it won’t help your team succeed, argues Deloitte’s Kim Christfort and Suzanne Vickberg. Rather than selecting people you’d enjoy spending time with, they suggest you think about who you would want on your life raft instead.
“Would you want everyone on that raft to have the same strengths and weaknesses? Probably not. Your goal should not be just to add diversity, but also to activate and manage it by creating an environment where all types can thrive.”

Patrick Lynch is the President of CMP - Southeast, a talent and transition firm in the business of developing people and organizations across the full talent lifecycle – from talent acquisition and leadership development to organization development and outplacement/career transition support.