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Hiring for Culture Add vs Culture Fit

Culture add vs culture fit

There is a proven correlation between a company with a defined culture and its financial success, and very few other factors play such a critical role in business success. Which is why, for the last 20 years, the focus has been on hiring for culture fit. 

However, hiring for culture fit can encourage pro-group think and homogeneity, stifling innovation and perpetuating affinity bias. All of which leads to a homogeneous culture. 

To truly put your organization at a competitive advantage, instead of hiring people who are a perfect match for your culture i.e. culture fit, hire people who can make your culture better – i.e. culture add.

How can you hire for culture add? Let’s find out. 

What’s in?

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What is culture add and how is it different from culture fit?

While you want people whose core values align with your organization, what you don’t want are people whose thinking aligns too. 

You want to hire people who think differently because that results in idea diversity. And diverse companies with diverse teams outperform industry norms by 35%

Idea diversity results in innovation, business growth, and a competitive advantage. Even better, top quartile cultures deliver a 200% higher return to shareholders than those in the bottom quartile.

And idea diversity comes from hiring for culture add. 

Culture add simply means hiring someone who adds to your existing culture, rather than someone who fits in with it. 

Hiring for culture add introduces a new dimension to your existing culture, someone who brings a unique perspective, fresh expertise, updated knowledge, and skill set that complements what you already have. 

A culture add adds more value to the organization that a culture fit. 

Hiring for culture add means hiring for both cognitive and visible diversity. For example, hiring someone who doesn’t think, look, or identify like the rest of the team, who didn’t go to the same school as the rest of the team, who doesn’t have the same skills, experience and background as the rest of the team. Perhaps they didn’t even grow up in the same culture, or even the same country. 

Hiring for culture fit on the other hand involves showcasing your culture throughout your hiring process and using it to firstly attract candidates with the messaging: ‘we’re the same as you, we’re a safe, familiar place’, and then evaluating successful candidates to see if they fit into your work environment. 

For example, is their workstyle sympatico with your current employees’ workstyle? Do they hold the same values as your organization etc?

All of these are reasonable aspects to consider as long as you’ve made sure that how you  establish culture fit is objective and measurable.

The problem is, few volume hiring companies have been doing this. Rather they’ve been hiring people who fit their status quo, rather than challenging it. And they’ve subsequently found as they develop their diversity and inclusivity programs that actually, culture fit is perpetuating unconscious bias, not enhancing the company culture. 

Why culture fit hasn’t been working

The reason that culture fit has been failing is because companies have been looking for candidates who match their existing DNA. 

For too long, hiring managers have labored under the misbelief that hiring candidates who are a great culture fit because they’ll get on better with the existing team, is how you add value to the organization. 

Yes, candidates who are a great culture fit will slot nicely into your culture. But the problem is, while they will have the same values, they’ll also have the same ideas and the same thought process as the rest of your employees, which is dangerous. Because a homogenous organization is not renowned for fresh thinking and innovation. 

When you hire people who think differently to one another, however, it results in what’s known as cognitive elaboration. In other words, when everyone thinks differently, they have to spend more time explaining their ideas, outlining what they mean, and showing their relevance to other related ideas. 

The result of this, as outlined in the Harvard Business Review, is a smarter team. Because when the team is diverse, the team’s collective IQ increases. 

How to hire for culture add

To hire for culture add means shifting your hiring framework away from thinking that building a great company culture means hiring the same type of people, toward looking for people who bring something new to the table. 

Hiring for culture add means hiring people who can expand the team’s capability with their unique perspective and diverse viewpoints, rather than simply swelling the team’s numbers with the same experience and skills that already exist. 

But before you begin creating culture add initiatives, you need to understand where your organization is currently at culturally, and where you want to go. 

1. Evaluate your culture

According to Gallup: “culture is the unique way that your organization lives out its company purpose and delivers on its brand promise to its customers.” 

But you can’t add to your culture if you don’t know what you have in place already – as the saying goes, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. 

To help you evaluate your company culture, you need a three-pronged data collection approach:

  1. Sentiment – what do your employees say about their role and your organization? What are their thoughts on the culture, for example. Collect this information through pulse checks, employee surveys, focus groups, culture assessments. What do former employees say about your culture? Ask them in their exit interview. Confirm or disprove any assumptions you have and get a feel for overall employee sentiment at this moment in time. 
  2. Behavior – while sentiment data will tell you how employees feel about your culture, behavior data will tell you how employees work in practice. Behavior data will show you whether your employees are living your company values or not. 
  3. Relationship – relationship data will show you how employees interact with one another. What team dynamics looks like inter- and intra-departmentally. And more specially, where connections and communications are lacking. 

Once you’ve established where your culture is currently, you have a benchmark to work from. 

2. Review your values

Now that you’ve benchmarked your company culture, you want to take a look at your existing values. 

Values are the foundation of your company, the pillars on which your company and culture grows. They’re the reason why you exist and they provide guidance for how your employees should behave. 

You need to know if your values are still relevant, and if your employees are upholding them. 

Firstly, identify each of your values, then measure each one and how it’s impacted your company over time. For example: 

  • Does each value resonate with employees?
  • Do your values align with the culture you want to have?

Then ask – what values do you want but you don’t currently have?

3. Hire for value alignment

You know where your company culture currently is, you know what your company values are, so now you can hire for culture add without hiring wildcards, because you can hire for value alignment. 

What do we mean by that? 

While you’re looking for the people who think differently to you, this doesn’t mean hiring loose cannons, far from it. You still need to hire people who will align with your company values at the end of the day. You just need them to bring something different to the table while they’re doing it, and help evolve the company little by little. 

Create job descriptions that clearly outline the key qualities and attributes that you’d like in ideal candidates, i.e. the ones you’re missing in your teams. But also highlight the values that you need candidates to align with, that will help them enjoy working with your company. 

Putting a framework around your hiring process eliminates human bias, ensuring a fair opportunity for all candidates. 

4. Use referrals to increase culture add

Make sure you have an employee referral program in place – the power of referrals is phenomenal. 

Referrals work both ways – when existing employees or new hires refer your company to a potential candidate, the candidate gets an insight into what your culture and company are already like before they apply, meaning they know what they are signing up for. And you only get referred candidates who fit your diversity bill. 

Just make sure that your existing employees know that you’re focusing on culture add to increase diversity. 

How can you ask for diverse referrals from your existing employees? Simply ask them for candidates who will enrich the company’s capabilities. This will force employees to think about what is missing in their teams that can fill the gaps. 

5. Change your mindset

Finally, culture fit is about maintaining the status quo, keeping everything comfortably familiar, and not pushing boundaries.

Culture add is about finding people who share your values while also bringing something extra with them. 

To move from one to the other you need to change your mindset from: ‘do they have the right attributes to fit in here?’ to: ‘what will they add to the mix that will help us grow?’

When you adopt a mindset for culture add, you focus on gaining the diversity that your culture lacks. But this is only the start of changing your mindset. 

Once you’ve hired someone, you need to walk the walk. There’s no point in hiring for culture add only for someone who thinks differently to join your organization and immediately be shouted down for thinking differently. 

This is where the ‘inclusivity’ of Diversity and Inclusion comes into play. In order to encourage diverse thinking, you need to ensure that everyone feels included and psychologically safe, otherwise they aren’t going to speak up and contribute diverse ideas. 


The modern interpretation of culture fit has allowed bias to shape the talent acquisition process. While hiring for good culture fit can be done, it must be carried out in an objective manner to ensure unbiased and fair hiring decisions are made. 

To prevent bias from sneaking into your recruitment process, don’t hire for culture fit, hire for culture add instead and create a workplace where diverse employees add value with diverse thinking, their world experiences, beliefs and skill sets. 

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Alexandra Johnson is a seasoned writer specializing in HR, recruitment and tech topics. When she isn’t at her desk writing, she’s researching tech developments.

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