Over the years, recruitment has become more refined and evolved but there’s one trend that’s been around for a while: culture fit.


A way of ensuring that new recruits will match the core attributes and values of the company, culture fit has widely been touted as an essential part of decision-making.


However, the tide is beginning to turn and although there are almost 2 million hits on Google for culture fit, it’s now regarded by many as an outdated idea. Even worse, it’s been suggested that culture fit could just be a mask for unethical discrimination.


So, what exactly is culture fit and why does it present such a problem?


Understanding Culture Fit


To comprehend why it’s now being viewed so negatively, it’s imperative to really understand what the aims of culture fit are.


A company’s culture is usually described as its beliefs or values which are present from top to bottom. It takes a collective to create a culture, it’s not possible for a single person at the top to manage it single-handedly.


Culture will vary from one company to the next, so culture fit is about businesses finding someone who they think will work well with existing teams and personnel.

In the past, culture fit has been described as a way of improving employee engagement, increasing cohesion and retaining staff. It’s also been viewed as a natural way of facilitating communication because when people are on the same wave-length, it’s much easier to open dialogue.


A Flawed Metric


The principles of culture fit may sound harmless, or even helpful, but poke beneath the surface and it becomes clear that it’s just a different way of discriminating against those who are different. The difficulty is that with culture fit, there’s no objective measure, no easy way to define which new recruits will be a good match.


One of the most common ways to determine culture fit is the “beer test”. Recruiters ask themselves if they can imagine going for a beer with the applicant, or whether the team they would be joining would like to join them for a beer. If the answer is no, the culture fit test is failed, and the application is rejected.

The question is: do you really need to be able to go for a beer with your colleagues in order to have a productive, harmonious and effective working relationship?


This assessment of culture fit usually means calling upon an unconscious bias. If the candidate doesn’t look like people you’ve hired before, then there’s a good chance they’ll be unsuccessful. There is, of course, another way to describe this type of decision: discrimination.


You don’t need a team of homogenous individuals for a business to succeed. In fact, quite the reverse is true. Studies have shown that workplaces with higher levels of diversity enjoyed the greatest levels of success.


Adding To Culture - Not Replicating It


Culture is important when you are recruiting someone, but not in the skewed application of what culture fit has often advocated. You can use culture fit loosely, providing you are looking for the right metrics.


For example, if you have a team of young workers who like to party hard together after hours, you might hesitate to take on an older worker who’s approaching retirement. However, the diversity they bring may add an extra dimension to the team which was previously missing. Deciding whether they would be a good appointment should be about assessing their core skills and attributes, and understanding what they would add to your existing culture. Does their vision match with your company goals? Could they make a positive contribution to your collective success?


In other words, it’s fine to consider culture but only as a means of deciding whether their purpose and working style of an applicant aligns with your company. It’s not about replicating what you already have.


Culture should never be a means to weed out people who have a different background, or who don’t look the same as current personnel.


Some companies go as far as deliberately seeking cultural misfits. Having a mix of different attitudes, styles and experience results in creative conflict. Managed properly, the net effect can be spectacular with each individual encouraged to bring their own ideas rather than just conform.


Be Brave To Succeed


By daring to break away from culture fit, a company can achieve so much more. Diverse recruitment means avoiding cliques forming in the workplace. As a result, employees are less likely to feel isolated or ostracised and staff retention improves.


Culture fit isn’t good news for anyone. It stifles success and creativity and encourages poor working practices. Dump culture fit and embrace culture conflict – you might just be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.


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