Does Hiring for Culture Fit Stifle Diversity?

Picture this scenario: You are the Operations Manager of a Series A funded startup that has been operational for just over a year. The majority of the 12 employees are millennials with an average age of 27. While there is no clearly defined organisational culture, what has developed naturally is an environment with a casual dress code, a founder with an open door policy, hard working staff, and Friday drinks at the local pub where staff can socialise and unwind after a stressful week.

Jolene has recently applied for the Head of Marketing role that was recently advertised. After spending 30 years in middle management marketing positions at major banks she is ready for her next career move. The organisations she has worked for have had thousands of employees, an interest in taking the easy way out, and many (many!) layers of bureaucracy before interacting with the Chief Executive Officer or other members of the senior leadership team. Furthermore, she would never consider spending time with work colleagues outside of business hours… except of course at the annual Christmas party.

If offered the role, will Jolene be successful in her new role? Since, according to The Society for Human Resource Management[1], hiring the wrong person can cost an organisation up to 50-60% of that person’s annual salary, there is a lot at stake.

Organisational Culture & Culture Fit

While the term “culture fit” has become common in the hiring space, it is impossible to think about “culture fit” before identifying an organisation’s culture. An all encompassing definition from the Harvard Business Review[2] is, “core beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours that make up an organisation.” Put simply, the culture is comprised of what people think, how they think, and how they behave. This can be revealed through surveys, team meetings, and compensation strategies.Often, a business’s culture develops as an outgrowth of the founder, the work environment, and the first few hires. Aspects of culture that are commonly promoted in startups are productivity, engagement, and collaboration. One method of attracting talented candidates is to share information about the organisation’s culture in the job posting and throughout the recruitment process. When there is a cultural match between the business and the employee, staff are more engaged in their work. As a result, this leads to better performance, happier employees, and longer employment tenures.

A few years ago, “culture fit” became a trendy topic in the recruitment industry. In fact, a study from Hudson Research[3] determined that finding candidates with the right cultural fit was the biggest hiring challenge throughout Australia and New Zealand. Like in the example above, it seemed clear that potential hires needed to understand the environment they will spend (at least!) 40 hours a week in. While most qualified applicants for a position apply with the relevant technical skills, it is someone’s personality, character traits, and expectations that are less malleable.

One strategy to test for culture fit is to spend time with a candidate outside of a formal interview environment in a cafe which naturally allows for more casual conversation to develop and therefore a greater understanding of the person and what they can contribute to the business outside of their technical skill set.

What about Diversity?

One of the challenges to this approach however is that it can easily lead to an unconscious bias. People are naturally inclined to hire people who they can picture themselves relaxing with on the beach while enjoying a cold beer on a hot day. However, fitting in with the culture and norms of an organisation is quite a different process than a night out. In fact, focusing on the former in hiring decisions often leads to organisational challenges such as groupthink because employees come from similar backgrounds, cultures, or socio-economic statuses.

However, current research indicates that diverse teams perform better on a variety of metrics. Specifically, people from diverse backgrounds bring differences in thinking which helps them frame and solve problems differently. This breeds innovative thinking which increases sales and overall drives more revenue to business.

Moving Towards “Culture Add”

A third option has become apparent in this conversation which has been coined as hiring for “culture add.” According to The Society for Human Resource Management[1], “culture add” is defined as “unique experiences, values, skills, and personality one brings to the workplace to make it more diverse.” This definition includes two components: the ability to thrive in the current organisational culture as well as the ability to contribute to its growth.

So, when evaluating Jolene’s suitability for the Head of Marketing Role, people involved in the hiring process can analyse not only if she’ll be able to adjust to start-up life, but whether she can bring her unique skills, ideas, and experiences to build a more diverse and forward thinking organisation.

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