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Mar 14, 2023

You’ve likely aware of hiring for culture fit, choosing candidates with values and attitudes that fit with the organization’s current culture. Hiring for culture add, by contrast, is a more recent idea, and it involves intentionally choosing those who will broaden, add value to, the organization’s culture.

To the extent that culture add means hiring people with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, it’s a great idea. The problem with this, however, is twofold.

First, culture add (much like culture fit) is typically so poorly and vaguely defined as to render the idea nothing more than a trite cliché.

Second, in an attempt to broaden the culture, companies often hire people that operate so differently that the existing culture treats the new hires as threatening and not value-adding.

Think of it like this. Based on the tens of thousands of people who’ve taken the online test “What’s Your Organizational Culture?” we know that corporate cultures can be delineated along two dimensions: a collaborative-competitive dimension and a creative-logical dimension.

For instance, an Enterprising culture is competitive and creative. It’s a meritocracy where the best idea always wins regardless of status or tenure. Creativity and intelligence are valued, and the organization is competitive, even if the competition between workers is friendly.

By contrast, a Dependable culture is collaborative and logical. This company is very process-focused and predictable on a day-to-day basis. People pride themselves on efficiency and standards and value workers who follow protocol.

Imagine that your company has a Dependable culture; process-focused, highly predictable, filled with task forces and consensus-driven decision-making. Now, in an attempt to hire for culture add, you hire someone who thrives in competitive and creative environments. The person has big ideas and hates the notion of slogging through 17 subcommittees only for a groundbreaking innovation to be rejected for not adhering to some footnoted protocol.

Your intention was to broaden your culture, add a dose of innovative spirit, and shake up the status quo. But the odds are minuscule that your new hire will survive. If the individual doesn’t quit out of frustration, it’s virtually assured that some executive will get irritated enough by the employee’s disruptiveness to show the person the door.

Hiring for culture add can be wonderful, but it has to be tempered by the reality of what the culture will tolerate. Bringing in diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives is great, but you need to ensure that your new hires are able to navigate your culture.

If your new hires have never experienced working collaboratively, and that’s a defining element of your corporate culture, there’s a good chance they won’t succeed. If they’re unfamiliar with working in highly competitive environments, and that’s a hallmark of your company, the success of your new hires will be seriously in doubt.

You can, and should, attract diverse candidates; just make sure they’re capable of working within your current culture.

Research shows that it typically takes two-thirds of the workforce to buy in before a change effort’s success is assured. So if you’re expecting a few new hires, out of a workforce of hundreds or thousands, to add to your culture meaningfully, you’re likely to be disappointed.

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