Discrimination, Culture Fit and How To Hire Right

Hiring isn’t easy.

It is often sprung upon us when our workload is piling up and there is no conceivable way we can finish everything on our own. Then, suddenly, we have to become hiring experts. The first thing we do? Run to Google and search “how to hire”, and read all about how you should focus on ‘culture fit’ first and foremost. Problem solved, right?

Unfortunately, the myth of culture fit is contributing to poor hiring processes that favour professional job seekers as opposed to professionals. Not only can hiring for culture fit lead to poor hiring outcomes, but it can cost you. A lot.

Culture fit can also be more insidious than just looking to hire “like-minded” individuals and serve as a method of discrimination. During my time as a recruiter I saw several employers specify detailed requirements for their ideal candidate from religion to gender all under the guise of a “culture fit”.

The Myth: Culture Fit

Defined loosely as your company’s values, beliefs, outlook and behaviour, culture fit is the way people behave and act within an organisation and team. Think of high school cliques: the rugby kids, the drop outs, the preppies. High school cliques are effectively team culture within a larger organization (the school).

As most of us are all too aware, cliques are often exclusionary in-groups that by no means foster better work habits and personal (and professional) growth, but instead alienate outsiders and restrict those on the inside from focusing on their individual achievements. Culture fit is often used as a euphemism for discrimination in the workplace that serves to perpetuate these exclusionary in-groups.

Environment over Culture

In the anthropological text “The Central Liberal Truth”, Lawrence E. Harrison introduces the idea that exclusionary in-groups and strict cultural values can in fact be progress-resistant as they promote too much homogeneity within them. The most important values — individuality, creativity, exploration — are overlooked in favour of favouring those similar to ourselves.

The Harvard Business Review’s “5 Myths of Great Workplaces” describes how ‘culture fit’ can often promote overconfidence, stagnation and in the end stifle performance. Teams that instead focus on an environment of diversity and individuality perform better.

Put simply, there is no magic culture you can foster to achieve the best workplace; instead, support the inclusion of individuals and create an environment that values achievement — rather than how well you can get along with everyone at Friday drinks.

What Matters More Than Culture

A Robert Half survey found that the leading factor of failed hires was a poor skills match; Vitamin T Staffing found that 41% of companies estimated that a bad hire cost them over $25,000. Both these stats show how imperative skills are for hiring, and yet recent years have seen a swing in focus away from skills, and towards to culture fit. It’s time to reduce the damage of this thinking and start asking first: can this person actually do the job?

The real success is found within a team of high performing technical employees whose values transcend set culture values. The only cultural fit you need to worry about is one that disregards the need for sameness and instead hires high performing individuals.

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