Over the past several years, there has been a growing trend around hiring for “cultural fit.” In the past year, however, evidence is growing that this trend is warping into something detrimental to a growing company.
The crux of the issue is this: when people make decisions to hire or keep people based on the idea that they fit (or don’t fit) company culture, they end up hiring or keeping a bunch of people who are all alike. So how did we get to this plain vanilla place? The problem lies in what the phrase “cultural fit” has come to mean. Erika Anderson of Forbes nailed it:
“Some executives I’ve dealt with over the past few years have used the phrase ‘not a cultural fit’ in exactly this negative, let’s-maintain-the-status-quo way; to mean ‘that person is too black/female/old/young/non-degreed/linear/non-linear’…in other words, ‘that person is not enough like me.'”
And why would someone take this approach? Because if everyone thinks alike, then there is no messy conflict. On the surface, that might sound like a good thing, but it isn’t. As Ron Friedman wrote in his HBR article 5 Myths of Great Workplaces:
“Healthy debate encourages group members to think more deeply, scrutinize alternatives, and avoid premature consensus. While many of us view conflict as unpleasant, the experience of open deliberation can actually energize employees by providing them with better strategies for doing their job.”
In summary, conflict represents different ideas, which means more options for you and your company and a greater likelihood of finding ideal solutions. Isn’t that what we want?
Hiring to cultural fit isn’t necessarily a bad thing provided that you are actually hiring to a common set of values. Patrick Lencioni calls it “The Advantage,” Steve Farber calls it “Love,” and Simon Sinek calls it “Why.” Whatever you choose to call it, the core values that define your business should be the definition of your company culture. Period. When everyone is working to that same set of values, then it becomes a common foundation for good, productive conflict or debate. If the conflict begins to become unproductive, you have a common place to take the team and refocus the discussion. It’s conflict without this value-based foundation that spins out of control and into personal and unprofessional exchanges that can tear a team apart.
It might even kill your company.