Creating Excellence Through People

Shifting from Culture Fit to Value Add

Seeking a 'culture fit' to the organization might be driven by misguided ideals. For an inclusive workforce, you're better to identify the 'value add.'

Company culture is a complex concept, possibly just as complex as each individual who makes up a company’s workforce. Ultimately, what we mean by culture are the philosophies and ideologies that create systems that influence behavior and performance norms within the organization. Along with company culture has emerged the term ‘culture fit.’ This label describes how a potential candidate or employee matches up with certain elements of a company, including the work environment, values, mission, communication, and behavior standards.

Admittedly, I feel uneasy when I hear the word ‘fit’ used in context with the workplace. In most cases, business leaders, hiring managers, and talent acquisition pros use the term with the best intentions as they hope to find a connection, but these good intentions can easily evolve into misguided ideals.

HR consultant and executive Patty McCord says that many times, what is meant by referring to a person as a cultural fit is, in other words, saying this is someone we would like to have a beer with. A culture fit hire may also be an individual who is tailored to the current company culture and will do their job while contributing to a harmonious working environment. There is certainly nothing wrong with someone compliantly meeting performance standards and corresponding with the company’s philosophies, ideologies, and social framework, but we also want to be careful not to undermine our own hiring practices and talent strategies by mistakenly making bad hires or promotions with candidates because we share interests, hit it off, and make assumptions of how they may fit in the overall culture or a subculture of the organization.

There is a more inclusive and effective way of looking at how an individual aligns with a company and the workplace that doesn’t require ‘fitting in.’ Fitting in is a subjective notion and a challenging wave to ride in the ever-changing workplace, but identifying a ‘value add’ is to determine what significance and meaning the person will infuse into the position, their team, and the company that makes them land in a place they belong.

Here are a few ingredients to determine the secret sauce of identifying a value add:

Assess the organizational culture. To determine the level of value add, we must identify what candidate attributes and proficiencies will enhance the company’s philosophies and systems that will lead to desired outcomes. An evaluation of the organizational culture is key. This includes gauging the influence of the company’s mission and values. Are they handbook buzz terms or applied guiding principles of the organization’s operations and workforce?

Ask the right questions. Once the characteristics of a value add have been established (and why), evaluate candidates for alignment instead of fit. Here are several practical evaluation tips from FairHQ to define skills and qualities that will offer insight into a candidate’s current and potential value.

Diversify the hiring team. It is a common practice to hire external recruiters but make sure the hiring team also includes a manager and HR representative who are familiar with the business. If the hiring team is 100% internal, diversify members of the team. At the end of the day, the team should be able to effectively construct a plan to identify the top value add while avoiding hiring bias.

The best value adds may have a wealth of distinctive experiences that are unlike our own. A legit value add will enhance innovation and measurably contribute to the company’s success. Their value and belonging in the organization aren’t necessarily derived from a social ranking but the talent they bring. Sure, it’s great to catch a beer at the end of the day, and maybe that’s a real possibility, but it’s also so much more impactful to collaborate with colleagues who make our life easier by supporting team and organizational performance, as well as have a positive influence on our own goals and career growth. Now that’s value!

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Terri Cummings

As Owner & Senior Consultant at Level Up Solutions HRD LLC, Terri Cummings is an advocate of lifelong learning who fosters bridging the connection between personal and professional development. Through strategy and proactive development, her aim is to align students, members of the workforce, and employers with continuous growth and opportunity that achieves sustainable success.

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