Hiring for Culture Is Stupid 

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Oct 22, 2019
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Culture is one of those “trends” in HR/recruiting that we just need to let die. It’s stupid.

The whole idea behind it, although well intentioned, seems to be tainted with bias. It has gone way too far.

For years we have been talking about reducing bias in the hiring process. We’ve made great steps forward and have started to place much needed attention on inclusion. But that dang “hiring for culture” ideal is lurking around the corner, on the tips of hiring mangers tongues just waiting to derail the whole thing. 

Company culture should not come from the employees who you hire. It comes from the top of the organization. This whole concept is misunderstood. Culture has turned into a buzzword that is unnecessarily thrown around the boardroom table when HR is rubbing elbows with the execs. 

Yes, the written values of the company are very important. But company culture is more like … how does your company act when nobody is looking? I’m not talking about Ping-Pong tables here. I’m talking about how the company operates. Calls on the weekend? Angry emails sent to handle performance issues? These are indicators of culture. I am using negative examples of culture, but I am trying to illustrate that a company is not what you see on marketing documents. It is how your company operates. This is why “hiring for culture” is so ridiculously flawed.

Let’s look at the science. A Harvard Business Review article points out that diverse groups focus more on facts. They process those facts more carefully. They are more innovative. Check the article out here. There are some great stats on the performance of companies that have more diverse representation. If diverse teams are clearly smarter teams, why are we so focused on hiring for culture fit?

There is bias in the hiring process, no matter what we do to try and prevent it. “Hiring for culture” adds to that bias. What recruiting team has not presented a great and qualified candidate only to hear from the hiring manager that they are not a fit for the culture? No technical evaluation, no feedback further explaining the rationale, or lack thereof.

I’m not saying that all companies are making discriminatory hiring decisions (although some are), I am saying there is an unconscious bias in most every human being, and it manifests often times in the hiring process. The next time your candidate gets rejected for “culture fit,” ask for an explanation of what exactly that means and watch your hiring manager struggle to provide clarification.  

Managers are also afraid to make the “wrong” decision, because somewhere along the way we got the idea in our head that for every bad hire we make a kitten dies. I have seen some HR products claiming one bad hire costs a company $250,000. If I believed that, I would be scared to hire the wrong person too. Hiring managers also hire what is familiar, seems safe, or what has proven to have worked in the past. Your top sales performer went to Arizona State University? “I better only hire people from ASU.” The hiring manager thinks they have found something clever and proven, but really they have just begun to develop a bias that is by no means accurate or even relevant to acquiring talent into your organization. 

Stop allowing candidate rejections to be made on the basis of “not a culture fit.” Stop all the soft-skill nonsense and begin vetting candidates against technical ability and capability to perform the work as required by the job description. Investigate hiring processes, peel them back, and see if there is any bias actually built into your process.

A great place to look is your interview methodology. Are you asking a basic set of questions to all candidates, or kind of making it up as you go? Standardizing at least the first few questions of every interview (for similar positions) is a great practice that helps eliminate unconscious bias. For candidates at the same stage in the hiring process, are you allowing the same accommodations? What are you doing, without even knowing that may be creating a bias? Simple things like the time frames in which you are making yourself available to conduct an interview, or the method used to conduct the interview, could create barriers from qualified candidates to make it through your process. 

We were well intentioned when all of this hiring for culture fit began. But it has proven to be a losing strategy when tying to hire and build teams. It is borderline crazy to push qualified technical talent away because they are not “outgoing” enough. I would love to be a fly on the wall watching a company defend itself against an EEO audit by explaining that a candidate was not a good fit for the culture of the company. Use your imagination to see how easily that will get your company in hot water, and not only from a talent-acquisition perspective.  

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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