Inclusion: Stop Hiring for Culture Fit and Start Hiring for Values

By Kristen Harris

We hear this all the time–“we hire for culture fit,” “not sure that person is a culture fit,” “we’re looking for someone who fits our culture.” I’ve personally said that phrase an endless amount of times. Finding a “culture fit” for your team has seemed to be the holy grail…”this person has all the right skills AND they’re a culture fit.” It’s shorthand for the ideal team member, or is it?

Whatever your culture is, this person will embrace and perpetuate it, which sounds great. Except we’re all having a lot of challenging, difficult, and vulnerable conversations about diversity in the workplace. If you continue to hire only people who perpetuate your current culture, then you will continue to have a workforce that is exactly the same. 

From some of the conversations I’ve been in recently, I can see more clearly what the phrase “culture fit” really means: a person who fits our culture. Which often literally translates to “someone like us.” What “like us” means can be a variety of things–cares about great creative, has a degree from a top school, writes in a particular style, worked for specific employers or brands, prefers certain software or tools, dresses a certain way, has similar hobbies or personal interests, lives nearby or in specific neighborhoods, went to school with someone on the team, and on and on. And, as I now understand, it can also feel discriminatory or exclusionary to someone who is not “like them.”

For example, if your culture is “we all get a beer at happy hour together” or “the bar cart comes around every Friday afternoon,” who might you be excluding? People of different faith backgrounds who avoid alcohol, parents who need to pick up kids after work, people who don’t drink by choice, or because they’ve had challenges with alcohol in the past. Every one of those people could be a fantastic addition to your team, but they’re not going to be interested in your company, you probably won’t even find or interview them, and, if you hire them, they’re not likely to stay very long. They’re not a culture fit. 

And that is just one example. Culture is everything about when, where, and how your company runs. It’s the work you do, how you work together, the clients you serve, the “fun” activities that co-workers do together in or out of the office, and so much more. So, what are you losing or willing to give up to keep the culture you have? You’ll miss out on new ideas, skills, talents, perspectives, voices. An entire pool of potential candidates could be eliminated because they “don’t seem like a culture fit.”

I think we’ve landed on this shortcut term of “culture fit” because it’s easier than explaining what’s truly meaningful to us. Instead of hiring someone who fits your culture, what if you hired someone who fits your values? And, maybe even, who adds to your culture? Someone who aligns with your beliefs AND brings something different to the table.

For example, our values at Portfolio Creative are Passion, Growth, Drive, Excellence, Accountable. We have short definitions of what each of these means and talk extensively about them with any potential new hire for our internal team. These values have nothing to do with where the candidate went to school, their previous employers, neighborhood, hobbies, or family structure. They are all about who they are, what they do, and how they behave—when things get tough, when a difficult decision needs to be made, or when no one’s looking. Candidates who believe in and live by these values will always be acting in the best interest of the company. By focusing on values fit, the potential hiring pool has expanded, and people joining the team are much more likely to feel welcome and stay long-term.

We all have work to do to create more welcoming hiring practices. We’re wiping the phrase “culture fit” from our vocabulary, and I challenge you to do the same. Stop looking for “someone I’d like to have a beer with” and start looking for the most talented, impressive, broad range of people suited for the job. Select people who align with your values and would add to your culture, not just fit with what’s already there. That’s what we’re doing, and we hope you’ll join us.