The problem with hiring for culture fit

“Culture fit” is likely part of the hiring criteria wherever you work.

However, it is a problematic dimension. If you started with a homogeneous culture – say with five males of Indian origin, then culture fit will most likely involve finding more Indian males. It is hard to diversify.

Many point to the existence of core values and culture documents when they think of culture fit. However, the core values of the five Indian males will be suited to, well, Indian males. Core values and culture documents are rarely sources of truth if they aren’t thoughtfully built by a diverse group.

The only way out of it is to pair culture fit with culture contribution. If the five Indian male team have done a great job with product market fit, you probably don’t want to break that team up. So, hiring a sixth person completely at odds with the team isn’t helpful. The only reason you’d do that is if all five unanimously align on the build a diverse culture – that doesn’t happen often. So, the middle ground is finding someone who will fit in while while adding something new. And, the next hire expands the culture some more, and so on.

In isolation, hiring for culture fit generally does more harm than good. Combined with cultural contribution, however, it can work phenomenally well.

  • In light of the Uber nightmare, I’ve (also) been thinking about culture the last few days. I’m not sure which article I read or where I saw it, but I liked the analogy of culture as concrete. When there’s just a little bit and it’s early, there’s still time to shape it, but once there’s a lot of it and it’s had time to harden, you’re left with what you have. You can no longer mold it. You have to break it a part and re-pour. That’s a lot of work.

    A bit adjacent to your post, but hopefully relevant, so sharing nonetheless.

    • Completely true. This post definitely came from that incident. 🙂