Interviewing for Culture Add, not Culture Fit

While it may be a hot topic again due to the increased focus on diversity and inclusion, the concern about hiring for “culture fit” has been around for several years.  Back in 2018, Patty McCord, of Netflix fame, shared her thoughts in a Harvard Business Review article.  In it, McCord says, “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. But people with all sorts of personalities can be great at the job you need done. 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.  Making great hires is about recognizing great matches—and often they’re not what you’d expect.”

It’s probably not surprising that I totally agree with that statement.  Just because we think we know what the profile needs to be, some of the best hires I have seen have been people we took a chance on because they had the right DNA, someone who had different experiences and could bring a new perspective to the team.  Not because they had the right resume.  It is why we started calling it the “culture add” interview at Ordergroove.  It’s important to interview to make sure you are hiring someone who represents your values of the organization, otherwise they will not be set up for success.   But what they are going to add to your culture is the other important question.  What new ideas and new insights can they bring to the table that we are missing today?

Below are a couple of ways you can make sure you are truly interviewing for your values and how someone will add to your culture.  And not the safe decision of the person you feel most comfortable with or want to hang out with after work. 

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  • Have multiple people be part of the interview process.  If you leave it up to just the hiring manager, there is a higher chance they will have blinders on their assessment of the candidate from resume to screen to interview.  If you include peers, additional managers from the same department, cross functional stakeholders, the head of the department, or the HR partner for that group, you will get a better cross-section of feedback.  Identify what each person will be interviewing for and train them on what questions to ask to make sure they are focusing on the skills they can best assess.  Make sure interviews cover soft skills (like communication or problem solving) and direct job skills (like coding or Excel).  
  • At the kick off meeting with the interview team, make sure everyone understands the expectations of the role.  Especially given the level of the person, what are the must haves versus the areas that are a bonus or you are willing to train someone on if they don’t have the skills today.  Too often I have seen someone cut because they are too “junior” when really they had the makings of a great team member, but they just had a unique path to get to this point. I would rather have someone with strong decision making skills and I can train them on the system we use.  
  • You also want to make sure you walk through how to assess and how to ask follow up questions to really dig into the answer.  I’m a huge fan of behavior interviewing, which includes the follow up questions of “What did you learn” or “What would you do differently”.   Another opportunity to allow someone to show a skill in a less cookie cutter way is to work on an exercise together.  It becomes less about did they get the answer right on the first try but how did they go about solving it, were they able to adjust their approach with some feedback or coaching.    This is especially helpful if the person didn’t have the traditional career path for this role.  They may have the baseline understanding to get to the answer but just have a different way to approach it based on their experiences and training.
  • Every company should identify competencies for each of your core values.  This allows the team to rely on objective data to determine if the candidate will be successful in your culture.  For Ordergroove, we identified dealing with ambiguity, perseverance, and interpersonal savvy as a few competencies to reflect our values of “we’re comfortable being uncomfortable”, “we’re in it to win it” and “what you see is what you get”.   If you use a tool like Korn/Ferry’s Lominger Competencies, there is a list of questions that are tied to each competency (and what to look for in each answer).  For example, for “dealing with ambiguity” we ask “Tell me about a time you had to start a project before you had all the information you wanted”.  First Round Review had a great article in 2016 about how to interview for adaptability.
  • To build on competencies, I always ask a “culture add” question.  I usually ask something like, “What is an example of something you did at your last company that pushed your team or culture forward?”   It’s less about assessing what the thing was that they did (different ideas will work for different companies) but more about how they found their way to add to the culture and if they felt comfortable suggesting new ideas to evolve the culture of the company.  

Hopefully with different people focusing on different skills and experiences, and questions that are tied to the demonstration of a behavior, versus a feeling, you will find not just the best person for your team, but someone who will push your thinking and processes further.  Someone who will add to your culture and make it stronger, not just fit in.

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