Written by Alanna Harrington, Senior Research Consultant
Recently there has been a lot of hype around the concept of ‘culture add.’ In this blog, we break down everything you need to know about culture add, whether it is beneficial for your organizational context, and if so, how to implement it.
Put simply, the idea behind culture add is that rather than hiring for culture fit (the alignment between an individual and the organization’s values and culture) you would turn your focus to hiring people who hold different values and can contribute something different to your culture.
Why (and maybe why not)
The proponents of culture add argue that culture fit is inherently unfair and bad for diversity. However, we argue that this is based on a misunderstanding of what culture fit truly means, and on bad experiences caused by the poor methods traditionally used to measure it. Culture fit still has a place in hiring if measured objectively and focused on tenets of culture – values and priorities – rather than similarity of personality, backgrounds, or experiences.
Culture add has the potential to reduce groupthink and introduce new ideas into your organization. However, we recommend treading carefully. Increased value on diversity is linked to conflict and lower team cohesion. While healthy conflict can be beneficial, managers need to be prepared to address this and ensure it does not destabilize the team.
In addition, culture add may lead to employees feeling like they don’t belong, resulting in lower engagement and a greater likelihood of turnover. It is important to consider whether the organizational context supports bringing in this diversity of values, which takes us to…
Where and when
It’s important to consider context and timing when incorporating culture add into your hiring process. Culture change is a difficult and lengthy process, and if it could be solved by hiring alone, everyone would be doing that. It needs to be accompanied by organizational development interventions that will help to bring about the desired cultural shift. If your only strategy is to hire people with different values, and nothing else changes in the organization, then it is likely to result in these new employees feeling that they are a poor fit and becoming dissatisfied.
Consequently, culture add is most likely to be beneficial in two scenarios:
- The organization is actively pursuing culture change and has put in place other initiatives to drive this.
- The organization is still in the process of forming an organizational culture and identity.
Another important factor to consider is who you are going to target for culture add. Bringing in entry-level employees with different values and priorities who have little ability to effect change is not likely to be a success. Leaders typically have the greatest influence on organizational culture and change cannot succeed without leaders who are bought in and will model the desired change. Therefore, when using culture add to help drive organizational change, it makes sense to focus this on positions with seniority and visibility in the company.
As with culture fit, we would recommend assessing culture add in a fair and objective manner.
It is important to define upfront what values you would like to add, to ensure that the organizational environment is sufficiently prepared to support this (i.e., that other cultural change initiatives are in process). In addition to this, taking an ad hoc approach to culture add reduces the standardization of your hiring process and may lead to challenges in that you are not focusing on job-relevant criteria.
Although there is little academic research on the concept of culture add, we know that interviewers are not very good judges of applicants’ culture fit. It follows, therefore, that they may also not be a good judge of culture add, especially as humans tend to prefer those who are similar to themselves. Therefore, it is advisable to reduce human bias in the assessment of culture add as much as possible. Introduce a values assessment in an early stage of your hiring process that measures both your current values and the value you would like to add. If you must incorporate it at a later stage, use a structured interview approach with clear success criteria.
Lastly, it’s important to be transparent with applicants that you are trying to add this component to your culture, and that hiring for this position is part of a wider change effort. Outline the ways in which you are going to drive this culture change going forward.
To sum up, hiring for culture add may be helpful in certain scenarios, but care needs to be taken. Although there are decades of research on the link between culture fit and outcomes such as engagement, satisfaction, commitment, and retention, culture add is a new concept with little empirical support.