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Culture Fit vs. Culture Add: How to Build a Mission-driven Team Without Sacrificing Diversity

Many companies place an emphasis on hiring for culture fit. This focus on cultural alignment is meant to ensure that new hires will fit in and contribute positively to the existing team. However, culture fit has come under fire in recent years, leading many organizations to begin looking for culture “adds” instead of culture “fits.”

Why Culture is Important for Organizational Success

A paper by Jennifer A. Chatman, the Paul J. Cortese Distinguished Professor of Management at the Haas School of Business, found that employees whose values, beliefs, and behaviors are aligned with their employers are happier in their jobs and less likely to leave their current company.

When a new employees’ values resonate with their company’s values, they have an easier time adapting to the new team structure and the responsibilities of their role. On the other hand, hires who have values that conflict with those of their employer often find themselves chafing at unexpected restrictions or frustrated with the direction of the company. 

That’s why a strong culture gives your company an edge. Employees who buy into their company’s culture are able to lead more effectively and their teams are better able to fulfill their roles. In company’s with a strong culture, everyone benefits from a more productive and rewarding environment.

So it’s easy to see why companies continue to place a high value on candidates who they deem to be “culture fits.”

What is Culture Fit?

According to Culture Amp, a software platform designed to help companies improve their corporate culture, culture fit is “the concept of screening potential candidates to determine what type of cultural impact they would have on the organization … based on the alignment of values, beliefs, and behaviors between the employee and employer.”

In other words, determining whether or not a new hire is a culture fit means assessing the impact they would have on the culture of your organization.

The idea was first expressed by Chatman in her paper. She referred to it as “person-organization fit” which she defined as “the congruence between patterns of organizational values and patterns of individual values.”

Now, person-organization fit has been popularized as culture fit, and with that popularity has come some problematic developments.

What’s Wrong with Culture Fit?

While looking for employees whose goals and values are aligned with your organization’s core mission and values isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, hiring for culture has been misunderstood at some companies to mean that they “fit” into the company. This is sometimes interpreted to mean that hiring teams should look to hire people they like and that they think other people in the company will like.

But that’s not what culture fit is about, and if you only hire candidates who fit into your current organizational makeup you can weaken your company over time. That’s because if your main criteria for hiring someone is whether or not you’d want to grab a beer with them, it can lead to stagnancy and a lack of diversity.

The Right Way to Hire for Culture

Instead of asking whether or not someone will be a culture fit, we should ask if they’ll be a culture add. The fundamental question is still the same. “Are they aligned with our mission and values?” but the term “culture add” emphasizes that people can be different and still have a positive cultural impact on the company.

The culture add concept is more nuanced, emphasizing the need to seek candidates who value the existing core values of the company while still bringing in other perspectives to encourage dynamism. This new model still prioritizes candidates who display some form of alignment with the company’s core goals and values, it prompts teams out of stagnation by creating more room for diverse opinions and approaches. 

The Benefits of Seeking Culture Adds

By replacing culture fit with culture add, companies will still reap the benefits of ensuring effective teamwork and employee satisfaction. The difference is in the added benefits to be gained by seeking candidates who bring additional value rather than simply blending in.

Looking for Culture Adds Reduces Hiring Bias 

The process of looking for culture fit went wrong when, instead of considering whether an individual’s suitability for the organization’s core values, hiring managers began to take social preferences, educational background, and cultural preferences into account.

This can lead hiring teams to hire candidates simply because they mirror existing qualities and identities within the team, especially when “culture” is interpreted on a superficial level rather than the fundamental values of the organization. 

The problem is exacerbated when existing hires refer individuals from their own networks to the company, as these individuals are likely to come from similar backgrounds.

But hiring teams that look for culture adds instead seek out individuals with unique strengths and past experiences. This creates diversity within the organization that provides different perspectives through which you can analyze organizational problems.

Hiring for Culture Add Makes Your Business More Dynamic

Culture fit emphasizes similarity and resonance. It assumes that an organization built up of like-minded individuals with similar values and working styles are more likely to collaborate efficiently. It assumes that cognitive diversity will lead to workplace conflicts. 

This isn’t entirely untrue, but an overemphasis on only hiring candidates who fit the mold of your company can end up creating an echo chamber.

On the other hand, hiring for culture add creates an impetus for your employees to seek new or better ways to approach problems or tasks. Team members will challenge each other to think outside of the box and to improve existing processes. This creates room for innovation.

As long as new hires do not directly contradict key tenets of existing organizational culture, having more diversity can spark more creativity within your teams and lead to interesting and fresh takes on how to best serve your clients.

When you hire for culture add, staff members with different educational and professional backgrounds or perspectives shaped by different life experiences can help your team as a whole see around blindspots while still binding the team to a set of core cultural beliefs. 

Focusing on Culture Add Encourages You to Refine Company Goals and Values

A company’s values, beliefs, and mission doesn’t have to be set in stone. While culture and values are important, there is no guarantee that these cultural beliefs and values will continue to serve the organization and its clientele indefinitely. 

Especially considering how quickly the world is changing and evolving today, organizations should always be prepared to evolve in order to suit the growing demands of their employees and customers.

By consciously choosing to hire individuals who resonate with the organization’s culture but who also present alternative perspectives you will get regular opportunities to reconsider your organizational DNA. 

When you hire for culture add, you will focus more deeply on candidates who provide some form of added value rather than simply looking for hires who will reinforce the status quo. you will also be able to see what gaps exist within your current team, and make changes to optimize your team’s ability to execute.

How to Assess Culture Add

Measuring culture within your organization and comparing each job candidate to determine who will be a culture add can be difficult. But culture add can be quantified, and this will help make the process of hiring for culture more effective.

Once you define the values, behaviors, and interests you need for a particular role, you can use a culture add test to quantify the degree to which candidates align with your needs.

The test is based on a survey that you fill out. Then, candidates are given a survey to determine how their values, behaviors, and interests align with your company’s and the behaviors and activities that will make a new hire successful in the role.

This provides a degree of objectivity and standardization to your comparisons between candidates, and also makes your team values and culture more concrete for your team as a whole. Such an assessment can help you to identify the optimum hire without defaulting to the implicit bias present in most informal culture fit judgments. 

Focus on Culture Add to Grow

When you are considering how well a candidate might fit in with your organization or team during the hiring process, consider which aspects of your culture are most necessary to ensure team cohesion and productivity. 

This is also a good opportunity to take stock of which aspects of your organizational culture could benefit from greater diversity and new perspectives, as those are the areas you can hone in on to identify which candidates may provide the biggest culture add.

So consider shifting your hiring team’s focus from culture fit to culture add. By doing so, you’ll create the necessary conditions for growth and adaptation within your company.

About the Author

Roy Harmon is the Managing Editor of TestGorilla’s human resources blog.

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