Culture Fit Vs. Culture Add: Which Are You Hiring For?

In the ongoing war for talent, HR leaders must be more proactive than ever in crafting and protecting their company culture.

Especially during the interview process, it can be easy for hiring stakeholders at all levels to gravitate towards candidates that seem like an obvious culture fit. But when we boil the idea of company culture down to the employee level, we start running into some big questions, among them:

  • Are we trying to hire people just like us?
  • Does “shared identity” mean “homogenous group?”
  • Is hiring for cultural fit discriminatory?

The word “fit” alone can be disturbing, conjuring up memories from high school cafeterias where you had to conform to certain norms to fit in.

In the business world, you might hear the term thrown around in reference to a weekly gathering at the local bar, or maybe a shared affinity for sports. As in, “you should want to [fill in the blank] with us. If you don’t, then maybe you’re not a good cultural fit”.

And though these attitudes may seem like a reflection of your “culture” on the surface, they’re actually a more insidious indicator of exclusionary beliefs that can ultimately hurt the culture you’ve worked so hard to build.

As leaders in a competitive business landscape, our goal is to protect our culture while we actively pursue the disruptors that bring about progress.

That’s quite a tension to live in, but the facts are clear. Culture “fit” is out, and it’s time for a new mindset: The culture “add.”

Bias is easy, diversity is hard

Throwing out the use of “cultural fit” and replacing it with “culture add” can completely change your approach to situations that deal with bias, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace.

In an effort to increase diversity, Facebook went so far as to ban the phrase “culture fit” in 2017. The tech giant also mandated that interviewers provide specific feedback to back up their position, or lack thereof, instead of reducing it to a good/bad culture fit recommendation.

As humans, we’re just hardwired toward bias. It takes diligence to make decisions without it, yet we all seem to think we’re objective.

Fast Company contributor Jane Porter explains that because of our brain’s quest to simplify decision-making, we’re much, much more biased than we think we are. In order to filter through thousands of competing pieces of information each day, we unconsciously rely on past knowledge and assumptions when deciding who to trust.


It’s important to mention here that diversity and inclusion efforts yield more than social returns; they also increase business value. A 2015 McKinsey & Company report found that “companies in the top quartile for gender, racial and ethnic diversity” do better financially than those who aren’t.

After all, bringing together people of different backgrounds, genders, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations almost guarantees diversity of thought and richer ideas. And in today’s knowledge economy, ideas are the currency that buys us creativity and innovation.

How to apply culture add > culture fit

Despite living in a data-driven world, too many recruiting decisions come down to the hiring manager’s gut feeling about a candidate. Without a procedure in place, hiring for cultural traits can give the impression that discrimination is involved. (Or worse — it is involved.)

Faced with such challenges, Pandora is yet another company that recently dropped the idea of culture fit in favor of culture add. And in an effort to hold themselves accountable to new diversity goals, the streaming service published the demographic breakdown of the entire organization on its website. Talk about leading by example!

Ultimately, companies like Pandora are paving the way toward a new way of thinking about culture. It’s not easy to protect the status quo while pursuing change-makers, but the effort is always worth it in the end.

When hiring for culture add, keep these 5 best practices in mind:

1. Don’t trust your gut

Now that we know the science behind unconscious bias, there’s just no good reason to make hiring decisions based on instincts alone. When you have a bad feeling about a candidate, don’t ignore it. Do the hard work of getting to the root of the issue instead of dismissing them immediately.

2. Always judge values over personality

If a candidate or an employee doesn’t share a company’s core values, there’s no question — it won’t work. If they demonstrate behaviors that could be toxic to your team, they don’t belong. But personality itself is not a good indicator of whether a person can add value to your team.

3. Ask interview questions focused on behaviors

At the end of the day, humans do what’s important to them. During the interview process, ask questions that require candidates to reveal their own values and associated behaviors.

For instance, if intellectual curiosity is a company value, ask a candidate about the last book they read. If service is a priority, ask when they did something nice for someone.

4. Put together a diverse hiring team

Sounds simple right? Make sure your interview panel represents the diversity you want to see (or at least knows to prioritize diversity).

5. Judge all candidates with the same criteria

Ask the same questions, give the same assessments. And remember, this is not just to appease compliance laws or make people feel good. Rather, these habits help wear down your unconscious biases in order to create an excellent work environment for everyone.

How is your company eliminating bias beyond the hiring process?

Use the right tools to eliminate personal bias in onboarding, promoting, or firing. Kazoo’s all-in-one Employee Experience Platform helps reduce bias with our Performance Management software that documents goal accomplishments, feedback, and opportunities for improvement to ensure everyone gets a fair evaluation at the end of the day.

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