Hiring for Culture ADD, not Culture Fit

You may have heard ‘culture add’ being thrown around as a bit of a buzzword in recent months – but what does it actually mean, and how do we put it into practice?

In a nutshell, culture add means seeking candidates who can add something different to your team, or bring a fresh perspective. It says, “yes, there are certain skills or attributes that we can’t compromise on for this role, but aside from these – we’re looking for individuals who can bring something new or different to the table.” Hiring for culture add demonstrates that you value diversity. Unfortunately, while ‘culture fit’ probably had good intentions originally (hiring people who will thrive in your specific organisation), it has become more and more dubious as a rationale for recruitment decisions.

“I’m just not sure that she’d fit in here.”

“He’s super qualified, but would I really want to have a beer with him after work?”

“My gut is telling me that she’s just not like us.”

Any of these sound familiar?

The Warning Signs

All of these are clear warning signs shouting “unconscious bias is at play here!” ‘Culture fit’ can be a vague, ill-defined term used to reject candidates who don’t fit the mould. It can mean hiring a bunch of people who think and behave the same way as you do.

If we always hire candidates who feel ‘safe’, ‘familiar’, and ‘like us’, sure – we might make some new friends. But we’re also much more likely to fall victim to ‘groupthink’: where harmony within the group is prioritised at the expense of creativity or unique thinking. Teams are particularly vulnerable to groupthink when its members are ‘similar’. It might feel comfortable to work in an environment where everyone thinks in the same way, but it’s certainly not conducive to change or innovation. A Stanford University study found that while firms who hired for ‘culture fit’ were less likely to fail (than those who didn’t), they also grew at the slowest rate, relative to other firms. Scholar Adam Grant explained this phenomenon as “what got you there doesn’t get you here. Culture fit might be good early, but dangerous late.”

Be open to something different

We encourage you to carefully consider what your ‘non-negotiables’ are when you hire staff. Like Facebook and Atlassian, it might be your organisational values. It might be a specific behavioural preference, like adaptability or customer focus. It might be having a strong work ethic. This will look different for every organisation. Where you can, use objective methods (such as psychometric assessment) to measure these things. And then, aside from your non-negotiables, be open-minded and consider candidates with qualities or experiences that will help your organisation grow. I heard this posed recently as: “Look for someone who can be your counterpart, rather than a reflection”. Your organisational culture should not be static; it should change with each new person that joins the team.

At Testgrid, we recently held a Hackathon and broke up our usual working teams so that we’d all have the opportunity to brainstorm with other staff that we don’t work with on a day-to-day basis. As part of the Psychology team, I was assigned to a Project Team with staff from Sales and IT Development, which was fantastic. And without tooting my own horn too much – we all came up with some pretty great ideas!

Culture Add Tips To Get You Started

Keep your interviews structured, with standardised questions. Having lengthy unstructured conversations with candidates can increase the risk of affinity bias – as you may discuss commonalities such as kids, sporting interests, which university they attended, and so on.

Consider what qualities don’t yet exist in your team. How can you make your team even stronger? In interviews, ask your candidates: “What can you add or bring to our organisation, in terms of something different?”

Atlassian’s Global Head of Diversity & Belonging, Aubrey Blanche, suggests probing colleagues further when they use the term ‘culture fit’ in a hiring process, by asking: ‘What do you specifically mean by that?’ This can open up valuable discussion around specific attributes being sought, and can minimise the influence of unconscious bias.


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