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Culture Fit in hiring: A practice to reconsider?

Updated: Aug 7, 2021

By Rhonda S Magee. Originally published May, 2017, I think this becomes timely now, as we begin hiring for a post-pandemic resurgence, and embrace our elevated intentions and commitments to diversity, equity and inclusion in all organizations.


My discomfort with the idea of Culture Fit in Hiring has been percolating for a while, and I’ve tried to wrap my mind around why I struggle with it. I think in large part it has to do with the

term “Culture” in general.

In organizations, the definition can be fuzzy, and can be used to mean different things.

Officially, in Organizational Development disciplines, Culture refers to ‘how’ we do things,

while Climate refers to how things ‘feel’ (when we are immersed in the organization). But

those who work in the trenches often mix these two concepts, or blend them. In addition,

there is another accepted meaning for Culture that embraces the institutional history and

artifacts that inform the “how” and sometimes the “why” behind the “how”.

So, when hiring someone to come in to an organization I wonder if it might be almost impossible to screen for culture fit, due to that historical component. How can anyone (a candidate for the position) not already inside the organization possibly know the historical references? After all, the candidate’s history has been experienced elsewhere, which presumably is why you need them…to bring their own experience and history to the table. This is how you round out your team.

When you engage a staff panel to conduct the screening interviews, you bring a group of people with their own view and their individual experiences of the internal climate and the culture, and yet they are expected to come to a conclusion on the Fit of the candidate. I also fear that often times the word FIT overrides the definitions of Culture and even Climate, and things begin to go sideways. As a result, there is a huge risk that around your table the team is screening for something entirely different, and this can be unintentional or subconscious even: they are looking for homogeneity. We can—and without malice—err on the side of: “someone who will be fun to hang with”, or “this person is a lot like us/me, so he/she must be a good fit”.

This flies in the face of good business/organizational strategy, and sets you up to hire against your own values, assuming that you truly value diversity.

All the studies show that the best companies have great diversity of thought, approach, opinion and personalities. This is achieved through diversity of background, culture or experience—and yes race and ethnicity. In terms of generational diversity alone, it has been said that each generation has its blind spots, therefore a variety of age groups has a good chance of having all the blind spots covered.

Take a look at this great article by Jennifer Briggs. I love her phrase: “Hire for a homogeneity of positive mindsets

and a diversity of personalities, races, nationalities, and world-cultures.” (emphasis is my own) Mindset, says Briggs is not a matter of personality, so personality tests don’t do the trick. Getting clear on the ideal mindset for your particular organization is critical. Also, she emphasizes hiring for the organization you want to be in the future, not the one you have today. Which points to some serious training efforts if you want to use staff panels to chime in on your new hires. Mindset, it seems is not the same as culture-fit, and might be much more essential.

What mindset is needed for your organization 3 or 5 years from now? Think about it!

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