For years, startups focused on finding candidates that were a “culture fit.” The reasoning was that because a new hire is often joining small teams where people will spend lots of time together, you want to hire someone who will get along well with the team.
But what does culture fit even really mean, and how do you screen for it? When you say someone fits the culture, it really leaves that open to interpretation. To one hiring manager, that may mean they’re a fan of the local sports team. To another manager, it means that they’re high energy and outgoing. It all depends on who’s doing the hiring.
Because of this, today’s hiring managers are shifting away from the idea of “culture fit.” Instead, they’re focusing on skills and core values aligned with the company values as the more important factors for potential candidates. In the world of hiring for startups, finding the elusive culture fit is falling out of style.
When did culture fit come into play in hiring?
According to the New York Times, the concept of a culturally fit candidate first took hold in the 1980s. As they put it, “The original idea was that if companies hired individuals whose personalities and values — and not just their skills — meshed with an organization’s strategy, workers would feel more attached to their jobs, work harder and stay longer.”
They went on to say that “in many organizations, fit has gone rogue.” Culture fit makes sense in theory, but it’s often the execution that causes problems. When hiring managers start focusing too much on bringing in candidates that look and act like everyone else already at the company, you risk halting new ideas coming to the table. In fact, you could be throwing out diversity completely, albeit unintentionally.
Fast Company calls this type of culture fit turned dysfunctional, unconscious bias. The idea is that we all have unconscious biases that can prevent us from hiring people that are different from us. We must acknowledge that we have them in order to eliminate them, and be more open-minded in our hiring practices for the overall benefit of our companies.
As the flaws come to light, companies are dropping culture fit
For a company to be innovative and continuously create new ideas, products and services, they need a diverse group of people to contribute to the culture. By hiring the same old types of people, your company will simply create the same old things over and over again.
It’s not surprising then, that inventive and thought-leading companies like Facebook have all but eliminated “culture fit” from their hiring altogether. In fact, according to Forbes Magazine: “To create a more inclusive hiring process, they prohibited the term ‘culture fit’ when providing feedback on what interviewers liked or disliked about a candidate, requiring interviewers to provide specific feedback that supported their position. They reviewed their interview process to proactively identify unconscious bias and took steps to remove them from their process.”
This type of specific feedback helps Facebook hire a more diverse and varied team to build their product. And because they’re serving a diverse group of users, the team better reflects the people that will be the end users of the product.
Focus on core values and skills rather than culture similarity
Having similar personality and cultural traits that mimic those of the interviewer is different than having similar core values. As a report in The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania states, perhaps a better way to determine a decent candidate is to focus on the values they may possess that are in line with the company values. Questions they propose for potential candidates could include, but need not be limited to:
- “How much of a team player are you?”
- “How detail-oriented?”
- “What type of emotions do you tend to display or suppress — anger, fear, love?”
When you intentionally shift the thinking from “Are they just like me?” to “Will they work towards a common goal?” you can stop worrying about the individuals fitting into the culture, and focus on what they are adding to the culture.
Software producer Atlassian calls this a “values fit.” As their Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion Aubrey Blanche told Forbes: “Focusing on ‘values fit’ ensures we hire people who share our sense of purpose and guiding principles, while actively looking for those with diverse viewpoints, backgrounds, and skill sets. We’re trying to build a healthy and balanced culture, not a cult.”
Yes, your employees do need to work well together, and get along. However, that doesn’t mean they need to all be alike to achieve camaraderie and respect towards one another. Create your company’s culture and allow it to evolve by focusing on hiring candidates with the right skills that are team players working together for the benefit of the company. You can always add team building and bonding experiences into the mix to help. But if your employees aren’t aligned with your company’s core values with the skills needed to do their jobs, whether they “fit” into the company culture won’t matter anyway.
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