The Downsides of Hiring for “Cultural Fit”

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cultural fit and the downsides - talentvine blog

It sounds simple, right? Hiring people who align with your organisation’s culture will ensure everyone stays happy and productive.

Organisational culture is important. This is a widely recognised fact, and despite the fact that few of us ever get it perfectly right, most people are at least conscious of the need to focus on developing the right culture.

Culture is implemented from the top down, but hiring practices can have a huge influence on how easy it is to implement cultural change, or sustain the existing culture that you’ve built. Some organisations take this to extreme, hiring purely based on culture. This works off the assumption that hiring the right attitude is more important than hiring the right skill set. People with a good attitude are willing to learn after all, aren’t they?

However, there are some genuine downsides to the practice of hiring people based on their “cultural fit”. Understanding exactly what it means to be a good “fit” is where many hiring managers start to go wrong.

Your own interpretation of what the company looks like, or what it should look like, is often greatly influenced by your own bias. Whether you’re strongly driven to hire people who love a game of ping pong after work, or who have similar qualifications or attended the same university, these factors can have a negative effect on hiring effectiveness. Most of all, they can greatly reduce hiring diversity, which can have negative effects across the board.

Without specific checks and balances in place, an overarching policy of hiring based on “cultural fit” will lead to an organisation filled with people who look, think and act the same as the next person. It certainly doesn’t need to be explicitly stated just how much a complete lack of diversity of ideas and viewpoints can damage an organisation’s competitive edge.

Hiring managers and business owners who lack adequate training in human resources practices, or are led to place inordinate focus on cultural fit, often end up hiring people they’d like to be friends with, rather than those who’d be the best choice for the organisation.

The end result of these practices is an incredibly homogeneous workplace – especially when it comes to those factors which matter most. People from differing socioeconomic and racial backgrounds bring to bear extremely diverse life experiences. These experiences drive a vast array of different viewpoints, which can be invaluable in regard to problem solving and innovative solutions.

Beyond simply missing out on new perspectives, you face a very serious risk of further entrenching toxic behaviours and personality traits into your organisational culture.

Depending on your organisation’s origins, there’s a good chance your culture has picked up some bad habits along the way. Many tech-driven startups and small business are predominantly male at the beginning of their journey. As they grow, a cultural change is often absolutely necessary in order to avoid alienating talented recruits.

By constantly reinforcing your own culture through hiring practices, there is a high chance that you’ll fail to evolve as an organisation, and may find yourself wondering why it’s impossible to attract the type of talent you need.

How to address the issue.

Cultural fit is important, but it’s a lot more flexible than you might realise. The first and most important step is to remember that culture changes. As an organisation grows, it must evolve.

Consider using blind hiring processes, at least in the initial stages. Use software programs (or third parties) to redact personal information from resumes. Consider using skills tests, where applicable, prior to interviews.

Train your hiring managers to be aware of unconscious bias, from writing job descriptions to the interviewing process itself. Simple awareness of the possibility of bias is often enough to help interviewers account for it during the hiring process.

Culture is important, but so is competitive sustainability. Ultimately, you need to do what is right for the organisation as a going concern. This means hiring the best employees, not just people who you’d like to grab a cold one with.

Contact one of the TalentVine team to find out how our platform can help remove unconscious bias from your recruitment process.

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