Why Cultural Fit Could Destroy Your Diversity Efforts

Culture is important. In fact, it’s what sets one organization distinctly apart from another. Your organizational culture is one of the most critical elements for having well-harmonized teams in which all the members fit.

Cultural fit has its merits. Industry gatekeepers prize cultural fit as a hiring imperative. Organizations use cultural fit for competitive advantage by relying on the idea that the best employees are like-minded with matched personalities, skills and values. Cultural fit supports the assessment that when people are different from the majority, and do not fit in group it becomes difficult to work with them and integrate them into the team. But there are serious limitations with the value of balancing fit with diversity and inclusion.

We’ve been deliberate to communicate the importance of workplace diversity yet overlook the concrete problems that are likely to emerge if homogeneity takes priority over genuine inclusion. Cultural fit, when misused in hiring for personal comfort, likeness, preference or chemistry, becomes one of the biggest threats to diversity in the PR workforce.

When done carelessly, the concept of fit becomes a dangerous catchall used to justify hiring people who are similar to decision makers and rejecting people who are not. Hiring for fit can keep demographic and cultural diversity low, force people into a given prototype and reinforce the myth that skill and talent is exclusive to a dominant group. This creates situations in which our organizations look diverse in appearance but are deceivingly homogenous. Sameness in profile, even with very different backgrounds, can breed the kind of culture that leads to uniformity and irrelevancy in the workforce, uninformed or overconfidence decisions among teams, and exclusion of high-performing candidates.

When done thoughtfully, the concept of fit becomes a progressive attempt to highlight contribution. Hiring for contribution can make our organizations more productive and profitable by redefining cultural fit to be closely aligned with business goals. This creates organizations where people with different perspectives, attitudes, and aspirations can work positively together. Achieving diversity through contribution is sign of future innovation. It signals that organizations committed to evolving to where they need to go are ready to trust high-level contributors to take them there.

To use cultural fit more effectively, we must decide that contribution has more value. Focusing on contribution in hiring shifts an existing organizational culture by taking the energy up a notch and setting the stage for creativity to flourish.

Instead of looking for someone who fits neatly your organization’s culture, seek to discover how this person will introduce something new and unique to your current culture. Instead of asking someone to match closely with your existing culture, seek to determine whether they are likely to energize your culture and nudge it in the right direction. As a result, your organization can become a home for big ideas and better growth.

Assess what your organization is doing well and what important measurable goals you can crush. Assess what is not going well and is a battle to achieve. Determine which aspects your organization’s culture directly affects how you reach those goals. Ask what qualities and differences are likely to influence the existing culture in a meaningful and positive way. In doing so, you reframe the concept of fit by developing a cultural profile based on contribution.

While there’s nothing wrong with asking the question, “Is he a culture fit,” it shouldn’t be completely synonymous with, “Do we like him?”

The beauty of diversity is having people come together to work on a common goal. We can’t lean on cultural fit to the degree that we become afraid of the perceived conflict in putting together different people or begin to treat diversity efforts like a chore that needs to be managed. The next time someone asks, “Are they a culture fit”, carefully consider what the answer might be. This approach could destroy all that we’ve what we have been striving for in championing diversity in our industry. When we rely on contribution, we create an opportunity to shift a culture with diversity and make inclusion a real concept.

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