Hiring for Culture Fit, or a Conformist Culture? (i4cp login required)

Productivity

Just
about everyone involved in hiring for every role in every company agrees:

It’s important to find applicants who are a good cultural fit.

That
said, some contend that it’s easy to overemphasize this piece of the hiring puzzle,
ultimately and often unwittingly perpetuating a culture in which everyone looks,
thinks, talks, and acts alike.

Talking
about culture fit can be a slippery slope, says Lorrie Lykins, i4cp’s VP of
Research and co-chair of its Talent Acquisition Board.

“’Culture
fit’ means different things to different people, and in some instances is code
for bias—when a hiring manager says that a candidate wasn’t ultimately offered
the job because of ‘culture fit,’ we should challenge that explanation and dig
deeper. What do we mean by that?” says Lykins.

Similarly,
Patty McCord, former chief talent officer at Netflix, made this argument in Harvard Business Review
last year:

“What
most people really mean when they say someone is a good fit culturally is that
he or she is someone they’d like to have a beer with,” wrote McCord.

But
the newest addition to your team doesn’t have to be a hit at happy hour
to excel at the job you’re hiring them for, says McCord.  

“This
misguided hiring strategy can also contribute to a company’s lack of diversity,
since very often the people we enjoy hanging out with have backgrounds much
like our own.”

Fair
point. But are we talking about a strictly either/or proposition when we weigh personality
against good, old-fashioned proficiency?

Of
course not. And it’s not unrealistic to seek new hires who will share the ethos
of your organization and nail the technical parts of the job.

So
how do you have it all in the hiring process?

Emphasizing
culture add, not culture fit

If
the hiring process includes discussion about culture fit, everyone involved
should be on the same page in terms of what that phrase actually means. The
focus ought to be on considering whether or not a candidate will be a culture add
rather than a culture fit, according to members of the Talent Acquisition
Board, says Lykins.

“The
consensus among senior talent acquisition executives is that when we talk about
candidates, we should approach it from the perspective of screening in rather
than screening out.”

If
‘culture fit’ is a recurring theme, adds Lykins, it’s possible that hiring
managers are consciously or unconsciously resistant to adding people to the
team who will bring new ideas and perspectives and potentially shake things up
a bit. If this is what’s happening, it needs to be addressed.

And
it doesn’t have to be done at the expense of evaluating competencies and
experience. That stuff’s still pretty important. As is ensuring diversity
within your organization—diverse backgrounds, diverse skills, diverse thought.

Getting
a sense of an applicant’s qualifications is the more straightforward part, of
course. Education, experience, accomplishments—that’s all right there on the
resume.

It’s
the less direct tasks—like discerning whether a candidate is a culture add—that
can give HR fits.

And
it’s not going to get any easier, as companies continue to put more emphasis on
building and nurturing a healthy culture.

The
recent i4cp report, Culture
Renovation: A Blueprint for Action
, lays out a series of actions designed to create such an
environment.

One
of the first actions in this process—and one of the first steps toward finding
and hiring people who will help foster a healthy culture—is to define the
desired behaviors to support your organization’s ethos, and then provide
training on those behaviors.

In
i4cp’s culture renovation research, two-thirds of organizations that have had a
successful culture transformation report providing leadership training at all
levels on what these desired behaviors are and how to model them in their daily
routines.

For
example, this training can encompass:

  • Identifying
    and telling meaningful stories about the company’s new values and desired
    behaviors in action.
  • How
    to transform and run a business at the same time, i.e., finding the right
    balance between focusing on executing this quarter’s objectives and building
    the culture for the future.

Finding
culture carriers

Ideally,
you already have plenty of employees who embody your organization’s values
every day. Conducting an organizational network analysis (ONA)—which i4cp also recommends in
its culture renovation report—helps find these employees, who can serve as
valuable cultural ambassadors.

As
i4cp points out in Culture Renovation, F5 Networks has used its own
network analysis to build a culture community around “champions, conduits, and
carriers.”

“Champions
are the folks who are the eyes, ears, and mouthpieces of our culture in the
field,” says Ana White, CHRO at the Seattle-based provider of application
services and application delivery networking.

“They
help to convey messages and they provide feedback on things like the barriers
to the cultural behaviors. They also help the company think about the key
employee moments and experiences that need attention, as well as guide us on
how to incorporate the behaviors into non-HR processes and systems.”

To
identify these champions, the organization analyzed recognition program data to
pinpoint those who were held in high regard by colleagues, and to find
employees who were leading efforts across F5.

“Culture
conduits are those who have high interaction with employees and thus have an
opportunity, due to the nature of their job, to convey the BeF5 behaviors,” says White. “For
example, they could be HR operations folks who help with onboarding employees,
or the Help Desk in IT who help employees when they’re in a pinch.”

These
individuals interact with a cross-section of your employee base on a day-to-day
basis, and it’s critical that they demonstrate these desired behaviors through
their interactions, says White.

“Carriers
are the leaders of the organization; employees look to them for examples of
acceptable and desirable behaviors at an organization.”

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