“The last candidate we interviewed was great, but we just didn’t think they would fit into the team culture”. Culture fit. Anyone who has worked within HR, Recruitment or the hiring landscape in general has been on the receiving end of this adage; that potential new employees need to ‘fit’ into an existing company culture. We are led to believe that times have changed, and this traditional corporate mindset has shifted. But has it?
The above is feedback my colleague received only yesterday, from a well-established Cayman-based firm. This seemingly innocent commentary feeds into what is potentially a concerning attitude towards Culture, Diversity & Inclusion within the talent space. Focussing on cultural fit (which directly impacts Diversity & Inclusion in the workplace), means companies are potentially risking exposure to hidden dangers such as unconscious and affinity bias, lack of innovation and accountability via groupthink, plus the development of toxic work cultures. Such cultures are identifiable by low employee engagement, reduced motivation, and often high attrition. Whilst considering the impact of culture fit can be challenging, particularly for organisations where this behaviour is deeply entrenched, the benefit of leaning into this discomfort and recognising it as an opportunity to adopt more inclusive practices is significant.
Undoubtedly there are multiple progressive firms and individuals in Cayman who have embraced the concept of culture being a living, breathing entity. Something that needs particular care and attention; to be nurtured with diverse and inclusive individuals who together create a fertile cultural landscape from which their organisation can grow, develop, and thrive. For those organisations who have yet to challenge the traditional notion of culture fit as an integral part of their hiring strategy, it is worthwhile exploring the impact this could be having on overall business success.
Why ‘Culture-Fit’ Reduces Diversity
Although every company culture is unique, when an organization talks about cultural fit, they are referring to a set of familiar traits, beliefs and attributes that link employees together. Whilst a team will feel an instant connection & ease with a new employee that has similar traits, in practice this is a classic example of Homophily; our tendency as humans to align ourselves with similar others, and it is a subconsciously divisive action. This is known as affinity bias when in relation to the workplace and hiring processes. The most harmful long-term effect of the focus on cultural fit, is the development of homogeneous teams. Critically, this means a lack of diverse workforces.
Having a diverse workforce has been shown to be one of the most reliable indicators of overall business success. Diverse teams can solve complex problems quickly, are more creative and better placed to succeed than their less diverse counterparts. Cognitive diversity alone can improve innovation by 20% Deloitte. Research taken from McKinsey has shown that a diverse business will deliver 35% better results. Successful businesses understand they must focus on hiring a diverse workforce, building inclusive workplaces, plus develop a standardised engagement & retention strategy. Having a genuinely diverse workforce increases candidate attraction, improves engagement, and retention, plus advances employee wellbeing. This in turn increases the productivity of staff & organisational profitability.
Improve Diversity & Organisational Performance via Culture-Add
To creative diverse workforces & promote inclusivity for all, organisations need an objective & standardised recruitment process, that is as free from bias as possible.
As discussed, a lack of diversity increases unconscious affinity bias which can lead employees to feel they do not belong, as they feel disconnected from the disproportionately homogonous workforce. This directly impacts an employee’s ability to bring their whole selves to work. If an individual does not feel that difference is celebrated, this lack of psychological safety in the workplace means they are likely to be uncomfortable speaking out, and teams therefore lose out on valuable ideas & information. For example, a study by McKinsey reported 18 percent fewer women feel comfortable sharing opinions or ideas that challenge the status quo in their organisation (75% of women vs 93% of men).
For your organisation to thrive, your employees need to feel psychologically safe and enabled to perform at their best. For this they need to be part of a rich tapestry of diverse colleagues and be exposed to inclusive leadership & culture add practices.
How to adopt Culture-Add as an Inclusive Practice
For organisations to get the most out of employees, they must proactively create diverse workforces. Hiring managers must be supported to add new employees that both fit the specific job role yet are nuanced and diverse from the current employee profile. A focus on culture add is to actively look to add employees with differing perspectives, diverse backgrounds, and divergent experiences, who can bring contrasting approaches, ideas, and awareness to the team. The practice of ‘adding’ in this way broadens and enriches company culture, creating long-term harmony and driving up a sense of belonging.
This can be a challenging shift to make, as hiring managers often have a demanding set of targets to work with, along with complex and differing political agendas to manage, therefore hiring employees that ‘fit’ the existing culture will often seem like the easiest and quickest route to success in the short-term. For this reason, culture add must be a companywide objective that is modelled by the Leadership team, and it should form only one part of a wider Diversity, Equality & Inclusion strategy. Strategies to boost culture add include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Intentional focus on building diverse teams;
- Focus on the alignment of mission & values;
- Taking a holistic view of candidates; – minimise focus on CV’s & consider transferrable skills;
- Ensure hiring managers looking at candidates that best fit the specific job role;
- Standardise the interview process; stages, process, interview questions & tasks;
- Reduce hiring manager bias by ensuring more than one person is present at interview stage;
- Provide hiring managers & employees with Unconscious Bias training;
- Run Leadership, Management & Employee Coaching programmes;
- Consider utilising highly valid core competency based psychometric assessments to reduce bias from the hiring process;
- Encourage an environment of accountability amongst hiring managers & leaders to ensure standards of diversity, and inclusive behaviours, are met.
Inclusion is key when it comes to retaining and developing employees, and culture add is an important element of this. Not only do companies need to build a supportive culture of diversity, but they must also prioritize inclusion in order to secure future success. These cultural transformations take time and are challenging but are imperative to overcoming diversity challenges. Embedding inclusive behaviors, while also working on standardized systems, processes & behaviors, can help organizations shift towards diversity. McKinsey
Fundamentally, for organisations to succeed in our rapidly changing global landscape, we need to ensure that Leaders are at the vanguard of practices that unlock the deep-seated potential of people. So, whilst as a standalone comment from a hiring manager, the issue of culture fit may not seem important, it plays an integral role in ultimate business success and is indicative of an organizations approach to Diversity, Equality & Inclusion.
This article forms part of a series on Diversity, Equality & Inclusion, Culture and People First Strategy. To discuss how your Leadership team & hiring managers can further encourage diverse hiring or to discuss anything Coaching, Culture or People related, please contact our Head of Coaching & HR Business Consultant [email protected].