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Glossary: HR & Recruiting Definitions

What is culture add?

Culture add is the concept of selecting and hiring candidates for a business based on what skills or behaviours they might add to the existing company culture.

By being open to new ideas and perspectives, and focussing specifically on adding qualities that current team members lack, hiring for culture add helps build more diverse and inclusive teams.

Culture add meaning

The idea of hiring for culture add is relatively new and aims to replace the concept of cultural fit. In a nutshell, this new hiring method strives to better support companies’ goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) while simultaneously building better-performing teams.

The “culture” in culture add refers to the company culture within a workplace. This culture consists of the complete set of values, views, and behaviours that define an organisation and makes it unique.

By definition, the concept of culture add looks at what a person can add to the company culture. This differs from looking at whether they fit in with the existing culture.

Culture add vs culture fit

In recent decades, the importance of company culture and the effect it has on teams and their performance has been widely recognised. Organisations realised that a more robust team culture resulted in a more cohesive, more aligned, and more effective team.

As a result, they started actively defining their own company culture, communicating this philosophy externally, and recruiting for additional team members that fit this description. This was based on the premise that individuals’ shared views and experiences create a sense of belonging to a group (in this case, the company).

This resulted in employees being more likely to stay in the organisation and being more engaged. By promoting a strong company culture and building a team of people that all align with this, organisations hoped to reduce workplace conflict and maximise efficiency.

Unfortunately, there are also several downsides to this method of hiring for culture fit. To try to hire employees that fit in with the company culture, hiring managers and recruiters (often unconsciously) fell into the trap of selecting individuals that thought, acted, and looked like them.

This resulted in homogenous, static teams that didn't actually perform well. That's because team members that share a similar cultural background will also share traits of a collective way of thinking and approach to problem-solving. This reduces creativity and, as a result, the chance of innovation.

Furthermore, in a homogenous team like this, the chances of groupthink increase (group members striving more for consensus and harmony than for the best possible outcome). This prohibits team members from finding the best solution and making the best decision for your business.

And it's not just about the performance of the team. Hiring for culture fit rather than culture add actually opens the door to unconscious bias and exclusion. Hiring for culture add was designed as a solution to this problem.

For an in-depth discussion on the cultural fit controversy, please see our separate article: Is cultural fit discrimination?

Hiring for culture add

Rather than only looking for candidates to fit into the existing culture, culture add suggests that companies should be open to bringing employees with new perspectives on board. When hiring for culture add, the goal is to not shy away from candidates who don’t fit the status quo.

Instead, difference and diversity should be embraced and actively promoted. Not only is this more fair and inclusive, offering equal opportunities to all candidates, but research has shown it has financial benefits as well.

When hiring for culture add, a company should take the following points into account:

  • Company culture should be clearly defined and acknowledged. What is the status quo?
  • What is currently missing from the company’s culture? What skills, talents, experience, characteristics, or personality types are absent? Identify any gaps in the existing culture.
  • Audit the interview process and identify any steps that might (unconsciously) lead to bias or discrimination in the process.
  • Further reduce bias and exclusion by creating a diversity recruiting strategy.
  • Once a hire has been made, be open to cultural differences and new ways of working. Urge new employees to share their experiences, learn from them, and allow for them to enrich the existing company culture.
  • Consistently monitor and audit the existing processes to ensure biases are reduced and diversity, equity, and inclusion are always promoted.

When interviewing candidates for a position, recruiters and hiring managers should try to ask the right questions. These should be aimed at uncovering an individual’s way of working, thinking, and behaving. This can help identify whether a candidate might be a good culture add for the business.

Once the candidate has answered a question, it’s up to the hiring manager or recruiter to analyse what this actually means for their potential culture add.

Does this candidate have specific skills or knowledge that is currently lacking in the organisation? Is the candidate likely to challenge the status quo? Does this candidate represent a specific view, voice, or background that is missing in the current composition of the team?

By asking the right questions, and looking for the right answers, companies can start hiring for culture add rather than just looking for someone to fit in.

Examples of culture add interview questions to assess for culture add

Do you need some help coming up with the right interview questions to assess for culture add? No problem. Consider asking any of these questions, next time you're interviewing a candidate:

  • Do you prefer working on your own or as part of a team?
  • How would you define your management style?
  • What have you learned in your previous role that you’re most proud of?
  • Can you mention three things that you would like to change, improve, or introduce in our team when hired for this position?
  • What does your ideal workday look like?
  • How do you think your previous colleagues would describe your work style?
  • What are your career goals?
  • What attracted you to this role?
  • What processes or techniques do you have knowledge of that you think our company would benefit from?

Do note: not all questions are acceptable (or even legally permitted under GDPR regulations) to ask when interviewing candidates. For example, asking a candidate about their religion, marital status, or similar personal matters is not allowed.

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