The recent death at age 46 of retired Zappos founder Tony Hsieh, whose leaves behind a legacy for building an outstanding company culture at Zappos, has reminded us of the value of a healthy organizational culture and hiring process to enhance that culture. In 2014, Zappos initiated the practice of hiring 50 percent on hard skills and 50 percent on cultural fit; today, however, the “hire for culture fit” approach is under scrutiny.
Hiring for fit came into vogue around the 1980s, but as we’ve entered the third decade of the new millennium, organizational experts have come to question and disdain this practice of pursuing culture fit in new hires – to the point where some organizations, such as Facebook, have banned the practice. Hiring for culture fit, say many experts, exposes a bias toward homogeneity and can result in a lack of diversity and can even promote discrimination.
Instead, the new watchword is hiring for culture add, which Lauren Shufran defines as “the likelihood that someone will not only reflect the company’s values and professional ethics, but also bring diverse opinions, experiences, and specialized skills that enhance not just the team, but the overall company culture.” Will Otto adds that “the notion behind culture add is that diverse, self-aware teams are more powerful than homogenous ones.”
Given the newness of the hiring-for-culture-add concept, information on the HOW of hiring for culture add is on the light side. Hence, this article provides a checklist of considerations for culture-add hiring.
Back in 2013, before hiring for culture fit began to be questioned, a study by Cubiks revealed that while 82 percent of hiring managers believed measuring cultural fit was an important part of the recruitment process, only 54 percent said their organization had a clearly defined culture. Be clear on your mission, vision, and especially values; even those who don’t support hiring for culture fit believe new hires should generally share organizational values. Ask stakeholders how they characterize the culture of the organization; ensure the characterization aligns with what is intended. Consider what culture in the future should look like; is it a culture of inclusion and belonging?
What percentage of hiring decisions will pertain to cultural considerations, and how much will focus on other criteria, such as skills and experience? Consider limiting the influence of culture on hiring decisions.
A hiring team in which members have diverse backgrounds and hold a variety of perspectives will clearly contribute to hiring diverse candidates rather than those who fit a cultural mold. The team should also strive to avoid groupthink.
So they are no longer looking for deficiencies in how candidates fit the culture but instead seeking out what the candidate can contribute to the culture.
The mindset also needs to switch “from gatekeeping to inclusive thinking,” notes Eli Montgomery. Be open to recognizing cultural blindspots and perspectives that may be missing in the current culture. Shufran suggests asking: “Where might we need our thinking and our processes challenged, and what kind of person would challenge them?” while blogger PJ Canterbury advises the query, “What type of individual will help us create the culture we are seeking for the future?”
Structured interviews should be used in which the same interview questions, in the same order, are asked of all candidates.
LinkedIn Talent Solutions suggests these three questions (provided as a PDF document with additional commentary) about what the question assesses and what to listen for:
It’s also reasonable to ask the straightforward question: “How do believe you will contribute to our organizational culture?”
The use of pre-employment assessments early in the hiring process can be key to uncovering what blogger Michelle Silverstein calls “‘hidden gem’ candidates’ who don’t necessarily fit the cookie-cutter mold.” Using these assessments is another way to level the playing field by treating all candidates equitably.
One of the best ways to expose a candidate to the organization’s culture is to allow the candidate to meet with the people he or she will be working with. “Candidates need to be able to talk to someone they will be spending time working with and who can show rather than tell what the organizational cultural experience will be.” This kind of connection also enables the team members to observe what the candidate might be able to contribute to the culture.
“Gut feelings” are often related to a tendency to favor candidates who are “just like us” and exclude candidates who aren’t “one of us.”