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SHRM 2018: Hiring for Culture Add in the Age of Diversity

Reading Time: 7 minutes

A few good things happened to me at the SHRM 2018 conference. First, I was honored to speak with Chloe Rada on the work Stories and Sodexo did together. Then, Adam Grant was a keynote, and being a superfan, I lined up early and grabbed a great seat!

And then… Adam Grant started speaking directly to me!

OK, so me and the other thousands of conference attendees. But, he spoke specifically about culture fit vs. hiring for culture add, a topic we’ve been talking about at Stories Inc. for the last year. His research was directly relevant to me.

This surprised me:

Startup companies that focused on solely hiring for culture fits were more likely to survive those that recruited based on skills, or a combination of skills and culture fit.

Then, another surprise: Grant’s research concluded that once a company becomes publicly traded, and hire solely for culture fit, they have the slowest growth rate.

His theory is that cultural fit brings you supercharged motivation and efficient collaboration in early stage companies. Once you’re a big organization, though, a company full of culture fits stymies innovation and contributes to groupthink.

Grant’s research didn’t cover when exactly it’s most advantageous for a company to switch from hiring primarily for culture fit to skills or a mix.  So much happens between startup phase and going public, so I wish there were other points of measurement along the way.

Hiring for Culture Add

Regardless, Stories Inc. has made the decision (now, as a small business and team of 10), to replace culture fit with culture add as a hiring criteria, starting last spring. Even though we know it’s best for our organizations,  attracting and retaining talent with diverse perspectives is deliberate, hard work. As a small business owner, where every hire is so critical to ultimate company survival, it can feel risky hiring someone who isn’t like you. But, we know it’s worth it.

  • It’s better for profit.  Companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity at the executive level are 33 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile, according to this report by McKinsey (and other interesting stats within).
  • We know it’s better for innovation: companies with a diverse employee base announce an average of two extra products in any given year, which about doubles the average for a major company.
  • General unconscious bias is a real thing and examining, understanding and dealing with ours is the right thing to do.

The Stories Inc. Hiring Strategy

We’re a small business that has always hired on our values. We always will. But some of our early hiring choices came from who we already knew. For example, a few years ago there were a lot of top performing, talented, and well experienced women who were leaving the traditional workplace as they started to grow their family.  

Two of my closest friends were looking for challenging work in a part time, flex time, or project-based capacity and after two years of searching, both had decided it simply didn’t exist in their geographic markets. Companies weren’t willing to accommodate this type of arrangement. Wow, did this feel lucky for us at Stories Inc., because we needed this talent and we preferred to engage in a part time capacity as we grew.

There’s a lot out there about hiring your friends. I never thought I’d do it, from a traditional corporate recruiting perspective. But, this was too great of a talent opportunity to miss and it worked out very, very well and both women, who both worked at Stories Inc. for more than two years (and yes, we’re still very close friends. I mean it, it worked out).

So yay for us, right? It was a good business decision. Today, given our commitment to culture add instead of culture fit for our slightly larger small business, we would have looked at this from a different lens (the vast majority of the team would be almost exactly my background: my age, my race, my hometown, similar education, all married with children).  Not to mention, a vast personal history and shorthand built from 20 years of friendship).

Shifting from culture fit to hiring for culture add

Starting this spring we shifted from culture fit to culture add as a conscious criteria for our new intern class (recruiting for values remains). Once we made this commitment as a company, it was really eye opening for me, as the person responsible for talent attraction (the pool of candidates) and the first phone call.

Examining my own unconscious bias was uncomfortable. Consciously adding different perspectives is something we’re still working on. We’ve had help from these thought leaders:

What do you think of the culture fit vs. culture add debate? Does the size or economic state of the company matter? What have your experiences been like? Email me at [email protected] to discuss, tweet us, or comment below.