Stop hiring for cultural fit, it’s damaging your teams’ potential

It has long been the Australian style to hire for ‘cultural fit’. We haven’t worried so much about past experience or skills as much as we have whether the person will fit our culture. We think this will create better alignment of values and behaviours within our team. But what we really mean is we want to bring people into our businesses who are like us.

It makes sense. Who wants to work with people they don’t really like or wouldn’t want to sit on a long haul flight with?

I get it. However, it is time to throw this notion out the window. If you want a highest performing team, that is.

When you choose to hire for cultural fit you reduce the diversity in your business. Diversity creates different thinking, broader problem solving and higher levels of innovation. Why would we want less of this in our business? Particularly in this day and age where these are critical to our sustainability.

When visiting a number of high profile tech companies in Silicon Valley last year there was a strong theme of recruiting for skills, experience and different thinking. They are not only interested in cultural fit; they want diversity.

And diversity is not just related to skin colour or religion. It relates to everything that makes us different from one another. Where we have lived, how we were brought up, where we have travelled and worked, what our personal preferences are, and what we choose to do on the weekend.

A few years ago I was proud of feedback I received that everyone at wattsnext was the same. To me this meant consistency, professionalism and stability. Now I view my team very differently and recruit very differently. I look for what new recruits can bring to the business that we don’t currently have, which often means the next person on board won’t be like me or anyone else in the team. This is exactly what I want.

This doesn’t mean we are not aligned and work as a team. We absolutely are and do, probably more so than when we were all the same. But now we must be guided by the company values more than ever. Our company values have us work as one while we cover all bases with our diversity of skills, background and views of the world. It is the perfect solution for increasing innovation and results for our clients while having a great time alongside our colleagues.

So next time you look to bring someone new to your team consider what they can bring to your business, not whether they are like you. You don’t need another you, or any one else in the team.

Broaden and deepen your capability as a team by bringing new ways of thinking to the table. Then focus heavily on ensuring they understand and live the company values alongside the team.

Diversity can be your best performance secret!

Sue-Ellen Watts is the founder of national HR consulting firm wattsnext. Sue-Ellen and her team of professionals are enablers of business growth through relevant HR for the modern world. 


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Mariane Bornelli
Mariane Bornelli
5 years ago

So, now you have a culture focused on diversity and will hire people that can deal and work with diversity, therefore, hiring those that fit your company’s culture?

What I am saying is that I am trying to draw a line between what is culture and what is personality of your team. I understand them to be two different things.

Bob Telfer
Bob Telfer
5 years ago

Thanks for the article. I think this speaks to the perceptions that people have about the meaning of ‘culture’. It is such a slippery term. I can definitely appreciate your argument that hiring for cultural fit is often distorted and becomes synonymous with hiring for sameness. Even if we incorrectly limit the concept of cultural fit to mean having shared values, it’s possible to slip down this slope. For me, culture is something that emerges within a team and within an organization through the collective behaviors and personalities of people. So if you lack true diversity on the team, then the culture becomes stagnant and falls into a pattern of thinking that lacks creativity or innovation. Consequently there is no synergy required for forming high functioning teams. I don’t think cultural fit is something we should argue against though. I think it’s something we should come to understand as very distinct from ‘sameness’ and at its heart is building intentional diversity. And by diversity, I’m talking about the unique, innate talents, soft skills, perceptions and personality traits that can so widely differ (or not) between people. Cheers, Bob

Kahlia Meschiati
Kahlia Meschiati
5 years ago

I agree with the comments below. ‘Cultural fit’ is a term that has been misinterpreted or misused by some and could be used as a bit of a cop out in situations where unconscious bias has affected the recruitment process.

To me, culture includes all of the points you’ve mentioned in the article, as a starting point, so perhaps there needs to be more education around how culture is defined, rather than steering away from it.

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