Beyond Fit

Bilal Ikram, member of the diversity, equity and inclusion panel at job search engine Adzuna discusses hiring for value fit and culture add.

This year should be the year companies finally close the door on the concept of hiring for ‘cultural fit’. Though the idea has well-intentioned roots, the unconscious outcomes are outdated and have no place in today’s workforce. Instead, we must reframe the intentions of hiring for culture fit, to achieve all of the advantages with none of the drawbacks. Here, we take a look at how to do this.

The trap of ‘culture fit’

Choosing the wrong hire can be costly. On average, it takes 52 working days to fill an opening, according to Bersin for Deloitte and that’s only the first step. Beyond finding a hire, the research also shows an average of 15 weeks is needed to bring someone up to productivity. That could equate to nearly half a year taken to find the right candidate and bring them up to speed, a substantial investment of both time and money. If they turn out to be the wrong person, it can be a costly mistake – and that doesn’t even cover the negative impact on wider team morale and productivity.

It’s therefore, no surprise that companies want to weigh up if a candidate will fit within their working culture – causing minimal disruption and hopefully shining once hired – before making any job offer. This goes beyond simply weighing up an applicant’s skills and experience. For several decades, ‘cultural fit’ has been the measure used to determine if a potential candidate will thrive within an organisation.

But while having a shared vision and a mission that unites employees is important, limiting the pool of opinions within your company comes with significant downsides.

Culture fit: the enemy of disruption and diversity

The two most important flaws to hiring for culture fit are that it slows innovation and encourages homogeneity. Both have serious business implications.

The culture fit concept is based on maintaining what an organisation already has and preserving the continuity of skills and opinions. It focuses on the now. But the best businesses are resilient and adaptable – and that often requires a fresh perspective. True disruptors are willing to apply a new way of thinking to an existing situation to bring about positive change, fast.

A greater threat is the potential impact on diversity. Hiring for fit can perpetuate existing bias by encouraging hiring managers to take on candidates they feel they have something in common with – be that a similar education, cultural background, or simply someone they’d like to have a beer with.

It can also encourage hiring based on likeability. Given that the very way we think is shaped by our background, be that religious, cultural, family or otherwise, that can lead to unconscious bias and great candidates being overlooked.

Too much emphasis on a company’s culture can also dissuade talent from applying in the first place. For example, trying to assess if a potential hire would be keen on Friday night drinks might discourage candidates with young families or a longer commute from taking the job.

Finally, an overly-defined culture can have a ripple effect, with a homogenous way of thinking leading to a company designing products suited to their own workforce, rather than a varied customer base. This outcome is doubly damaging: minority groups end up under-served by society and businesses end up missing out on potential customers.

Value fit and culture add

There is a way around this. Rather than focusing on culture fit, you should hire for value fit and culture add.

An alignment in values will always be important. For example, it is fair that a company that places high importance on openness and transparency wants to assess potential hires against these values, regardless of their background. But next to this, look for culture add.

This is about creating change, adopting a learning mentality, identifying what an organisation is missing, and most importantly, focusing on the future.

The interview process is a key stage in which you can uncover this. Focus on a candidate’s strengths and what they can add to your company. Reframe questions like ‘What are you passionate about?’ or ‘Do you prefer working alone or as part of a team?’ which can lead you down the path to unconscious bias. Instead, you could ask questions like ‘How do your colleagues benefit from working with you?’, ‘Tell me about a time when you challenged existing thinking?’ or perhaps ‘What are some of the goals you’ve set for yourself this year?.’

At Adzuna, we first assess a candidate’s competency to see if their skills match what we need. Next we look at their values. For example, we value teamwork highly and so uncovering how a candidate works with others is important to us. Beyond that, we actively look for innovators who will add to our culture.

Don’t be afraid of a difficult conversation at this stage. Turning down candidates should be based on their skills and values – not their culture fit. If an interviewer can’t articulate where the candidate is falling short, it’s worth challenging them. Culture fit is too often used as an excuse not to take on a great hire, simply because they are different. If you think cultural fit is the reason you are rejecting a candidate, you must challenge that decision.

At the end of every interview process, we use a ‘bar raiser’ interviewer. A bar raiser is an interviewer (often from a different department to the hiring role) who is brought into the hiring process to be an objective third party. We find this is a great way of getting a new opinion, as well as testing whether the candidate aligns with our mission and values and can add to our culture.

Beyond hiring

Championing value fit and culture add doesn’t stop at the hiring stage. A working environment that is open to evolving must embrace a diverse range of approaches and not be afraid to challenge the status quo. That means creating an inclusive working culture where everybody feels safe to voice their opinion.

Advocating for inclusion and creating a rich culture has tangible business benefits. During an economic downturn, the value an inclusive workforce brings is even more apparent. During the Great Recession of 2007-2009, stocks of inclusive companies increased by 14 per cent, while the S&P 500 index fell by over 35 per cent, according to Boston Consulting Group.

The other critical consideration is ensuring equity. New employees must have equal opportunities for progression, irrespective of how closely their backgrounds align with those of their colleagues. Sticking too stringently to a company’s existing culture may make new employees feel uncomfortable, unable to perform well, or even alienated enough to leave. Instead, a culture add environment gives new employees room to grow and freedom to make their mark.

Focus on the future

At the centre of it all, shifting focus from culture fit to value fit and culture add is about creating positive momentum within a company and embracing change. That needs to be kept top of mind throughout the entire hiring process – from considering the skills you want to add to a team, to the interview experience, to empowering your new hires to create change and shape the future. Through being humble and striving towards a rich culture, great things can be achieved.

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