Let’s be honest about cultural fit. Should you hire someone who will easily fit into your culture? Or, is it better to hire someone who will contribute to your culture and improve it? One is about maintaining the status quo, the other is about change.
But bringing in people who drive change, even if that change is positive, can be disrupting. It can even undermine the company’s existing employees. So who is the custodian of your company’s culture? Is culture something that should be maintained or something that should evolve over time? Who decides?
I don’t think there is an easy answer, or even a right answer. Each company has to decide which path to take. To make this a little easier, I decided to compare cultural fit to cultural contribution using five criteria: stretch, harmony, diversity, productivity and empowerment.
#1 – Stretch
If you want your company to continue to grow, you have no choice but to hire people who will bring in fresh ideas and challenge the status quo. That’s what the best companies do. If you have have an amazing culture, a ton of high performers and exponential revenue growth, eventually the competition will catch up. Someone will copy you, come up with a better idea or simply execute better. You can’t afford to stand still.
To ensure that your company continues to improve, you must hire people who will stretch your existing team in every way. This is where cultural contribution clearly beats cultural fit.
Some will argue that it’s possible to hire people who will fit into the existing culture and still innovate. However, stretching requires discomfort. There are no half measures. For avoidance of doubt, I’m not suggesting the company’s values be changed or compromised. They should not. There is a big difference between values and culture.
#2 – Harmony
Maintaining harmony is the strongest argument for hiring people who will fit into your culture. It’s why we introduce preferred candidates to the team before making a hiring decision. It’s why we ask ourselves “do I like that person?”.
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Don’t get me wrong, harmony is a good thing. If every new employee brings tension and change, it can be extremely destabilizing. It’s not always a good time to rock the boat, and some boats weren’t made for rocking. But harmony comes at the expense of stretch. As leaders, it is up to us to decide what the right balance is for our company at each point in time.
#3 – Diversity
“The condition of having or being composed of differing elements.” That’s the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of diversity. In a hiring context, it means we should hire people different to ourselves.
If you think diversity is a good thing for your company, you are probably already sold on the notion of cultural contribution. You already see value in hiring people who bring new perspectives and new ways of thinking. You also know that it’s not easy.
If you want a diverse company, forget about fitting in and look for people who can contribute.
#4 – Productivity
This is the hardest one to judge. Hiring people who disrupt the status quo could result in an immediate injection of innovation, or it could stifle productivity, at least in the short term. If you want instant results, your best bet is probably to play it safe and hiring someone who fits in. You’re more likely to get buy in from the team.
However, the long term productivity benefits of a cultural contributor could by far outweigh any short term gains. Are you playing the long game?
#5 – Empowerment
Earlier I asked who the custodian of your company’s culture is. Here’s my view: your culture is whatever your team says it is. Not you, and not prospective employees. Your existing team.
Does that mean harmony is more important than stretch? Emphatically, no.
But, you don’t want to bring in change agents and burn your existing culture carriers. Instead, empower your team to carry your culture and drive change. Make cultural contribution a value of your company and a hallmark of your leadership.
Demonstrate the benefits so that your team members see cultural contribution as something that will help them, and their company, getter better. Rather than being undermined by external change agents, they should embrace cultural contributors as allies who join their tribe. They should feel empowered, not threatened.
Building a diverse team that continues to evolve should not come at the expense of your most loyal employees. Bring them along for the journey. Let them drive change. It’s no easy feat, but it’s a great leadership challenge and the prize is huge.