Should recruiters search for “culture fit” or “culture add”?

There are two different schools of thought on how to match applicants with a company’s culture. Here’s how to negotiate the difference.
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The Office (NBC)

· 3 min read

Company culture evades simple definition, which is why some companies will issue nonsensical mission statements that evoke the barf emoji.

And since “fast moving and innovative problem solvers who harness compassion to solve critical dilemmas in property technology management” means about as much as the square root of an empty well, it’s up to HR and recruiters to do the scutwork of figuring out what actually defines a company’s culture.

Specifically, when it comes to seeking out new talent, should you strive to find candidates who fit in with the established vibe, or ones who add to it in meaningful ways?

What the hell is culture anyway? The concept of company culture has evolved through various iterations over the decades, Nancy Halpern, a leadership consultant, told HR Brew. In “iteration 2021,” she said, “[culture] seems to be more defined by ‘What is your company’s public profile?’ What does it stand for, and how does it live that as an external expression and [through] internal practices?”

On an external level, companies preach all sorts of high-minded values, but often fail to live up to the rhetoric. Critically, a company’s true interaction with the outside world will often reflect its internal culture. Halpern echoed this, saying: “Very often the way you do business drives your culture.”

Fit or add, you say? Recruiters often run into a cultural fork in the road, with a sign that reads, “Fit or add?” The dilemma: Do you hire candidates who fit into the established culture, or do you seek out applicants who add to it in meaningful ways that may challenge existing structures?

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Merely striving for culture fit can breed a certain sense of exclusivity and even discrimination, such as exclusively hiring people from a similar socioeconomic or ethnic background. But choosing whether to fit or add can often be more contingent upon a team’s working needs, as opposed to nebulous ideas and corporate credos, Halpern explained.

Critically, a recruiter navigating this terrain should “find out what kind of person that manager has always hired and find out what they’re missing and what kind of culture they want to build.” Some people, she noted, “believe you need a team of rivals so the culture of that team is debate,” whereas other teams need cultural fits who can perform the same task at the same speed as everyone else.

It’s typically companies figuring things out at base camp who require a bit more of an additive approach. Or those who think, “We don’t know everything, and it’s clear that we need to be culture additive to add other voices to that mix,” Halpern said.

And by using that additive approach, perhaps younger companies can craft realistic mission statements that amount to more than just lofty rhetoric on a barf bag.

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Contact Sam Blum via the encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram (@SamBlum_Brew) or simply email [email protected].

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.