Cultural Fit or Culture Add: What Drives Business Success?

Cultural Fit or Culture Add: What Drives Business Success?

September 29, 2020

A company's culture shapes everything from innovation to retention. But do hiring managers focus on "cultural fit" or "culture add" when bringing in new talent? Understanding this distinction is key to building an engaged, productive workforce.

Organizational culture encompasses the collective values, practices and social environment of a workplace. It has profound impacts on performance outcomes like creativity, coordination and employee satisfaction. Therefore, recruiting approaches that align with or enhance the existing culture are crucial. This brings us to the concepts of cultural fit versus cultural add.

Traditional approach: Hiring for cultural fit  

Cultural fit has long been a staple of hiring practices. It’s useful to explore the roots and reasoning behind this traditional model.

What is cultural fit?

The traditional approach to hiring focuses heavily on finding candidates that fit into an organization’s existing culture. The emphasis is placed on assessing if a candidate’s values, mindset, personality, and work styles align with the company’s cultural norms. The premise is that cultural similarity facilitates better integration, engagement, collaboration, and retention.  

Cultural fit has become a popular criterion for employee selection. Hiring managers often rely on subjective impressions of fit rather than job competencies. This is based on the belief that shared cultural traits predict job success and harmonious teams. However, narrow interpretations of fit can potentially reinforce homogeneous cultures.

Hiring culture fit
Hiring culture fit

Importance of culture fit

Supporters of the cultural fit approach make strong arguments around its positive impacts on employee performance and coordination. Some of the purported benefits of hiring for fit include:

  • Employee engagement: Workers are more motivated when they identify with company values and social environment. Shared norms and experiences can strengthen feelings of belonging.
  • Job satisfaction: Employees experience greater job satisfaction when their personalities and preferences are compatible with workplace culture. Alignment of individual and organizational goals contributes to contentment.
  • Team collaboration: Cultural similarity facilitates trust, cohesion, and coordination between workers. Smooth communications and interactions are more likely when vocabulary, work styles, and mindsets are comparable. 
  • Work output: The heightened job engagement, morale, and collaboration brought about by cultural fit lead to better work performance. Employees expend more effort towards collective goals.
  • Employee turnover: Shared cultural traits and experiences make it more likely for workers to develop affective commitment i.e emotional attachment. This results in higher employee retention and reduces hiring costs.
  • Costs associated with recruitment: New hires who turn out to be a poor cultural fit have higher chances of underperforming or leaving voluntarily. Failed placements incur avoidable expenses related to hiring, onboarding and skill development.

Emerging paradigm: Hiring for culture add

A new perspective challenges conventional cultural fit wisdom. Understanding culture add and its burgeoning priority helps reframe talent acquisition considerations

What is culture add?

In recent years, there has been a shift away from the notion of cultural fit towards cultural add in recruitment processes. The latter focuses more on diversity and how candidates can enhance rather than just align with existing cultures. 

Culture add involves evaluating what unique strengths applicants can contribute in terms of fresh ideas, innovation, interdisciplinary skills, diverse networks and perspectives. The goal is to harness diversity for long-term gains rather than short-term assimilation.

Hiring for culture add
Hiring for culture add

Importance of culture add

Advocates of hiring for culture add argue it delivers significant advantages across innovation, market relevance, collaboration and workplace inclusion. Specifically, culture add proponents highlight benefits in areas such as:

  • Benefits to innovation: Heterogeneous teams with multicultural experiences spur greater creativity, problem-solving and development of new products. Diversity brings constructive dissent that questions the status quo.
  • Market adaptability: A breadth of viewpoints equips companies to serve diverse customer groups better. Multicultural insight helps firms address emerging socio-cultural trends.
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration: Complex challenges increasingly require interdisciplinary solutions. Teams composed of members with vastly different academic and experiential backgrounds excel in synthesizing broad knowledge.
  • Network diversification: A multicultural workforce provides access to wider industry connections, partnerships and talent pipelines unattainable through a homogeneous network.
  • Psychological safety: Inclusive cultures where all groups feel valued and heard promote psychological safety i.e freedom to express divergent ideas without fear of embarrassment or retribution. This is linked to higher performance.
  • Reducing biases and discrimination: Homogeneity in hiring risks certain groups being structurally disadvantaged. Culture add compels organizations to confront biases by actively seeking diversity.

What is the difference between culture fit and culture add?  

Now that both concepts have been explored, directly comparing cultural fit and culture add models illuminates crucial tradeoffs underpinning each philosophy.

Financial implications

Proponents of cultural add argue it can lead to long-term financial gains that outweigh short-term hiring costs. However, incorporating different viewpoints can temporarily increase coordination expenses and slow down decision-making processes. 

Meanwhile, companies that solely focus on cultural fit not only run the risk of expensive turnover from failed hires but also sacrifice innovativeness. In conclusion, culture add shows greater potential return-on-investment through boosted creativity, staff retention and market responsiveness.

Ethical considerations

Reliance on cultural fit prompts questions around inclusion and bias. It can disadvantage qualified candidates from underrepresented groups if they differ from major current employees of the company. Prejudices around race, gender, age and class can creep into determinations of fit.

On the other hand, culture add emphasizes egalitarianism, diversity and merit-based opportunities. However, implementing culture add requires confronting sensitive topics like privilege, prejudice and structural discrimination within organizations. Leaders must be willing to challenge long-held cultural assumptions.

Impact on employee satisfaction and organizational culture  

Homogenous cultures brought about by cultural fit hiring may initially have a satisfied conformist workforce. However, this homogeneity can lead to a decline in innovation and market competitiveness due to resistance to change over time.

Meanwhile, transitioning to cultural add pluralism may predictably cause some initial discomfort and lower consensus. However, if individuals feel psychologically safe to express minority opinions, it can boost morale for underrepresented groups. Overall, increased diversity and inclusion enhance creativity, resilience and employee engagement.

The big question: Which is better?

There are merits to both cultural fit and cultural add approaches. Purely pursuing one at the expense of the other entails tradeoffs. An optimal approach likely combines compatible elements of both frameworks.

Leaders should intentionally cultivate aspects of existing culture that promote inclusion, innovation and market relevance. Hiring objectives need to balance these with finding workers who easily assimilate into collaborative norms. In practice, the emphasis between cultural fit and add may differ based on context e.g industry life-cycle stage.

In conclusion, hiring for cultural fit versus add involves complex tradeoffs. While cultural similarity has benefits like smoother assimilation and initial coordination, diversity and inclusion unlock invaluable creativity and market responsiveness. There is no definitive superior approach, but rather a spectrum of solutions depending on context. However, constructing an ethical, high-performing organizational culture demands grappling with difficult questions that both hiring philosophies pose.

Talentnet offers advanced assessment tools and recruiting solutions to help organizations optimize their approach. For example, Talentnet’s Emergenetics program leverages personality testing to evaluate candidate thinking styles and fit scientifically. Meanwhile, Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) provides fully managed, data-driven hiring solutions tailored to an organization’s diversity and culture goals. By leveraging Talentnet’s services, companies can cut through the complex tradeoffs and build an optimal culture. Contact Talentnet today to learn more and get started optimizing your hiring.

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