Is 'Cultural Fit' Costing Us?

6 months ago by Sophie Stones

Is 'Cultural Fit' Costing Us?


“Cultural fit has become the buzzword of the decade, however what is it really, and is it destroying diversity in our companies?”

There’s been a recent focus on cultural fit, with many companies shifting entirely away from rigid qualification requirements in its favour. The term however has baffled many a candidate, leaving them feeling personally rejected, rather than professionally.

Within the hiring process, making it to the interview stage almost always means that you have the skills required, so what is it that sets you apart from the crowd of suits?

Often that difference lies in the gut-feeling of the hiring manager, with 77% using their gut when assessing candidates, during the recruitment process. However, despite cultural fit being lauded as important for employee retention, hiring solely on this basis can create homogeneity and even raise alarm bells about diversity and inclusion. Even Google who significantly raised the popularity of this hiring technique, deeming the qualities they look for as ‘Googliness’, risk alienating older job-seekers in doing so.

Safia Boot, Director at Respect at Work, says that although searching for cultural fit isn’t always bad, in the wrong “untrained hands ‘cultural fit’ is like a lethal weapon. Anyone who does not appear to ‘fit in’ based on superficial, implicit bias and stereotypical assumptions will be at risk.”

So how do we avoid making this mistake and joining the 90% of HR leaders who, although they feel cultural fit is crucial, are dissatisfied with how they hire for it?

Often this means simply stepping away from the idea that cultural fit means ‘the same’. In a recent study The Open University discovered 29% of Senior Managers ‘hire people just like them’. However, this technique “just leads to another agreeable cog in a machine that only ends up making cogs” (Susan K Rits, Founder, 100 Days of Product Design), leading businesses to stagnate rather than move forwards and innovate.

Despite being seemingly obvious, it is often ignored that company culture needs to be actively defined, with its definition often relying on personal opinion. Even when management set clear characterizations, there’s often a disconnect between the aspirational view and the reality of company culture. A falsehood which new employees will soon find apparent.

With companies, in particular within recruitment, fostering microcultures within teams, company culture relies on an entire staff force and so can’t simply be defined by two or three people. It is this that has led workplace experts to suggest regular surveys to check in with employees.

Most importantly, even if we’re screening for friendly, hard-working employees, we need to ensure that we don’t just rely on cultural fit. Risking possibly losing out on top candidates who don’t fit into an unyielding box. Study after study has shown that diversity means added productivity, so is it time we move away from lemmings and towards a culture of inclusion?