Why We’ve Moved Beyond Culture Fit (and You Should, Too)

September 6, 2017 at 9:00 AM by Jill Witty


There’s a common phrase in recruiting that now makes me shudder when I hear it. The phrase in question? Culture fit. “What’s so wrong with culture fit?” you ask.

Culture fit has become code for “do I get along with this person,” which, in turn, often really means "is he or she like me?" That’s a problem because we shouldn’t base hiring decisions on how much we like people or want to hang out with them. Choosing colleagues is not like choosing friends-- nor should it be. And that’s one reason the idea of culture fit can be so problematic.

We all have inherent, unconscious biases that make us more likely to favor people who are similar to us. But hiring people who are similar to existing employees will lead to worse outcomes: diverse teams are more innovative and better at solving complex problems. If we want diversity at our companies, we have to use our hiring process to fight affinity bias. One problem with “culture fit” is that it codifies and amplifies that bias instead of mitigating it.

Focusing on culture fit also enables hiring managers to reject any candidate who doesn’t think, look, work or live like them. How many times have you seen “not a culture fit” in an interview scorecard, with no concrete evidence to support this claim?

These are some of the reasons why organizations have started to strike “culture fit” from their vocabulary. Many of them, including Entelo, have found alternatives that enable better hiring practices that build stronger teams. At Entelo, that alternative is “values fit, culture add.” The thing is, culture does matter. But rather than creating a monoculture, we strive to create a culture of openness that values dissent, welcomes new ideas, and thinks differently. And the best way to do that is to create teams of people with different backgrounds, points of view and talents who work together to help the company succeed.

We want each of our new hires to be a “fit” at our company, but we imagine fit with respect to our company’s values. Our values describe how we behave, how we treat each other and how we make decisions. We only want to bring employees into our company who embody and uphold those values, so it’s important that we evaluate candidates along those lines.

Assessing people for values fit required a new approach to hiring, so we began assigning each interviewer a specific value on which they would assess a candidate. For example, one of our core values is grit. How do you assess for grit during a 30-minute interview? It’s actually simpler than it sounds. You create focused, intentional questions. One of my favorites is to ask a candidate about a time they faced a seemingly insurmountable challenge and how they persevered. It’s a tough question, to be sure, but how a candidate tackles a challenge is a fundamental part of how they’ll approach their job. If they can’t show grit, we won’t hire them.

Second to values fit but no less important, is the concept of “culture add.” We know that each new hire changes the fabric of the company. The idea of “culture add” aims to ensure that those changes contribute positively to the company in a new way. Ask yourself: "What new insights or perspectives might they offer, based on their unique set of experiences?" Diversity means many things, and often times, companies focus exclusively on external, demographic representations of diversity like gender, age, or ethnicity. While these are important, we also like to include diversity of background, thought, and experience. This is how you truly build a culture that thrives on the unique perspectives and ideas everyone brings to the table.

I invite you to shed the practice of interviewing for “culture fit,” and instead take a pass at “values fit, culture add.” If you make this switch, let me know how it works out for you!

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