Culture Fit vs. Culture Add

For years, organizations of all shapes and sizes have been using the idea of “culture fit” to guide their hiring decisions. Broadly speaking, culture fit refers to how well a potential employee can adapt and fit into the company’s current culture, as well as their ability to buy into the company’s mission and vision.

The impulse behind using culture fit to evaluate job candidates is self-explanatory. It can be assumed that employees who buy into the mission and vision of the company are more likely to work harder to achieve that vision and to feel engaged with their work. By extension, employees that are engaged are more likely to be retained long term, reducing employee turnover. These goals are all very much in line with the general goals of any hiring department.

However, in the last few years, culture fit has started to lose its luster. In its place, “culture add” has emerged as a revision to the idea of hiring with culture in mind.

Why the transition?

Critics are increasingly arguing that “culture fit” is impeding progress on diversity in the workplace by causing employers to seek out and hire people that are just like them. This includes favoring candidates that look like them, talk like them, think like them, have the same background, or even have the same hobbies and interests. It also includes hiring people that you think you could be friends with. While there’s nothing wrong with hiring a candidate that is likeable, any hiring decision should always be based primarily on the person’s ability to the job, and less so on their friendship potential.

What all of this comes back to is the idea that culture fit may be encouraging employers to give into, and even validate, their unconscious biases about candidates. As hiring managers and HR professionals become more well-versed in what unconscious bias is and how it can impact hiring decisions, organizations are seeking ways to counteract these cognitive biases by turning to more objective, data-driven ways to evaluate candidates. At the same time, organizations are increasingly committed to increasing the diversity of their workforces. In doing so, they have to evaluate whether their current practices are hindering that progress.

In this context, culture fit has come under fire as a potential hindrance, rather than a help. In its place, “culture add” has emerged as the latest and greatest way to evaluate candidates for culture.

What is “Culture Add?”

Culture add is all about adding to the company culture rather than simply fitting into it. At its core, culture add is about hiring candidates who bring a new perspective, new background, or new way of thinking to the organization. The benefit is clear: there’s increasing evidence that more diverse companies perform better because they are better equipped to approach and solve problems in unique ways.

Another added benefit to hiring for culture add? It can broaden your applicant pool. This may require you to take a step back, review the requirements you’ve been listing in your job descriptions, and think critically about which requirements really have any bearing on the job at hand. Does the candidate really need a four-year degree? Do they really need to have had five years of experience in that specific role? Or could they have some potentially interesting transferable skills that could bring a new element to the table? All of these questions can help you narrow down the requirements that really matter so that you can identify great candidates that you may have overlooked.

Use Assessments Early in the Process to Highlight Unexpected Candidates

One of the best ways to find those “hidden gem” candidates who don’t necessarily fit into the cookie cutter mold is by using pre-employment assessments early in the hiring process. Resumes are often used as the initial touchpoint that decides whether an applicant makes it through to the next stage of the process, but resumes are fraught with the potential to elicit unconscious bias. Numerous studies have demonstrated that simply changing the name on the resume to a female name or an ethnic-sounding name can have a major impact on call-back rates, even when the resume is identical. While these responses aren’t intentional on the part of the hiring manager, it does call into question whether the resume should really be that first barrier that an applicant must pass.

At Criteria, we typically recommend placing a short cognitive aptitude assessment at the start of the process to gauge each applicant’s problem solving and critical thinking skills. These are closely tied to an applicant’s trainability, such that even if the applicant didn’t have all the required “hard skills,” they’d likely be able to learn them quickly.

When an assessment functions as the earliest introduction to a candidate, you get a more objective view into that candidate’s abilities, separate from their gender, race, age, or educational background. It’s a sign of raw potential. This can help employers identify great candidates that they might have overlooked based on resume alone. By broadening your applicant pool at the start of the process, you get one step closer to hiring more employees who have a lot to add to your culture and your organization as a whole.

Want to learn more about moving from culture fit to culture add? Watch our webinar on-demand.