Hiring for Culture the Right Way

In the final chapter of our three-part series on culture, we outline the hidden dangers of hiring for “culture fit” and the advantages of using competency models.

Click Here to Read Part One:
Improving Company Culture Will Grow Your Bottom Line

Click Here to Read Part Two:
3 Steps for Advancing Company Culture

The idea of hiring for “Culture Fit” comes from a place of good intention. If we hire people who we like and who enjoy the things we enjoy, we’ll create a happy, productive workplace environment.

The intentions are noble, but “hiring for culture fit” often becomes a catalyst for introducing unconscious bias into hiring practices. At first glance, an outdoor company trying to reinforce their culture may feel strongly about hiring others who enjoy long hikes or who appreciate the employee handbook’s powder clause, but what may result is an exclusionary hiring practice that limits diversity and promotes a “group think” mindset that inhibits innovation.

To battle unconscious bias while supporting the culture you’ve strived to build, consider the following three hiring strategies.

Strategy 1: Redefine Lifestyle and Hobbies in Terms of Competencies and Traits

Consider the outdoor company who feels their culture would be best supported by hiring likeminded hikers, climbers, and skiers. Evaluating a candidate’s culture compatibility based on those interests creates the opportunity to introduce unconscious bias into the hiring process. Katie Augsburger, founder of Connected Consulting, puts it like this: “if being outdoorsy means an individual has always had the privilege or access to doing those things, then you may be inadvertently marketing yourself to a narrow demographic when more people could fit the role.”

Fortune describes this phenomenon even more bluntly, explaining how hiring for ‘culture fit’ can shift to becoming a shield for discrimination. “When hiring managers and top executives feel that a potential hire ‘doesn’t fit in,’ that may simply mean the individual in question is different from them in race, gender, class, sexual orientation, or education.”

Instead of analyzing hobbies or picturing how well someone could socialize at a company happy hour, work with a professional recruiting service to identify the competencies that align with your company’s culture and vision. What are you really looking for when you say “outdoorsy”? Once you break it down, you may discover that your ‘outdoorsy’ employees who contribute the most to your organization all share the competencies of “Results Oriented”, “Growth Orientation”, “Initiative”, “Drive / Energy” and “Creativity”. These are the competencies by which you would then evaluate candidates moving forward.

Strategy 2: Identify Your Stated Values Vs. Actual Values to Define Your Aspirations

To determine the competencies required for culture-compatible candidates, begin by examining your company’s values. Specifically, take time to compare your stated values (what you say) with your actual values (what you do). The difference between the two can be described as your aspirational values, and your aspirational values will guide your hiring process.

Augsburger illustrates, “you can say we have a feedback culture, but if the ways in which you communicate with your employees are cloaked, done by a survey, or only given in a one-on-one meeting with a manager, that’s where you can identify that your stated value of being a ‘feedback culture’ is not the same as the actual values you practice. Being a ‘feedback culture’ is thus an aspirational value that you are striving to achieve.”

Once you’ve identified your aspirational values, then you can begin to screen candidates based on the competencies that will help your company realize its culture goals.

Strategy 3: Hire for “Culture Add” to Inspire Innovation and Challenge the Status Quo

To keep your company from hitting a growth plateau, it’s important to not only hire for culture compatibility, but to hire people who can challenge the company to consider new viewpoints. When you encounter someone in the interview processes who meets your competency requirements, but who feels “different” from your team, pivot your perspective. Instead of worrying whether they will “fit in”, consider where their differences can add value.

Entelo summarizes this well in their blog, Why You Should Be Hiring for “Culture Add”, Not Culture Fit: “When employees experience the benefits of a diverse team, they’re more naturally inclined to seek diverse candidates to support a continually developing team. More, newer ideas are discussed, different communication styles thrive, and candidates from diverse backgrounds become engaged with what your company has to offer.”

Further, hiring for “culture add” prevents the creation of echo chambers, where no new perspectives are introduced, and where unhealthy culture elements are reinforced. “Sometimes when people hire for culture, they let dangerous parts of their culture fester because they keep hiring the same person,” explains Augsburger. “Uber’s culture issues grew to the point of implosion because they kept hiring the same type of person over and over, instead of hiring people who could challenge the culture and help it evolve and grow.”

Changing from a hiring practice focused on core competencies instead of culture fit will foster innovation and create a productive environment where employees can thrive. At Noto Group, we consider and screen for core competencies in all the roles we help our business partners fill. For more information about how we can help you shift to a practice of hiring for culture-compatibility using competency modeling, contact us or call 503-953-8000.

Roy Notowitz

Roy is the Founder and President of Noto Group. Over the past 20 years, Roy has been a trusted talent acquisition adviser to hundreds of leading consumer products, technology, and non-profit organizations nationwide. Roy was a recipient of the Sporting Goods Business SGB 40 Under 40 industry award. He has written for, and addressed, groups such as the American Marketing Association, American Electronics Association, Gear Trends, and the Outdoor Industry Association on topics that include talent alignment, hiring trends, executive recruiting, interviewing and selection.

In 2019, Roy launched How I Hire, a podcast that taps into the best executive hiring advice and insights through conversations with top industry leaders.

View all posts by Roy Notowitz