Organizational Wellness

Why Hiring a Culture Add is Better Than Sticking to Culture Fits

Jun 13, 2023
Last Updated Feb 13, 2024

“Sure, the candidate may look like an obvious choice,” a hypothetical hiring manager may say, “but are they a good culture fit?”

You may not know it, but that’s a recruitment process veering off course. 

To be sure, company culture is incredibly important. It plays a primary role in everything from establishing effective onboarding, to optimizing individual and team performance, to promoting employee wellbeing (and beyond). A strong, engaging culture also gives your best people a clear reason to stick around and even helps turn them into some of the most powerful brand advocates you could wish for. In fact, 66% of C-suite executives and board members identify company culture as more important than strategy or operating model. 

Simply put, culture creates purpose. Culture matters. And creating a thriving organizational culture should be a top priority for any business. Pretty much everyone is in agreement on this point.

But hiring for a culture fit isn't as great as it sounds.

Why? Well, to answer that, let’s take a look at what exactly a culture fit is and how you can improve your business by breaking the mold with a culture add hire instead.

Diverse Recruitment

Culture Add vs. Culture Fit 

Culture add? Culture fit? It’s getting a little jargon-heavy in here, but understanding the importance of hiring to improve company culture (rather than just reinforce it) requires getting into semantics. And we’re going to start by looking at the meaning of “culture fit.” 

Culture Fit

Hiring for a culture fit sounds very positive on the surface. After all, why wouldn’t you want to focus on people who are going to jibe well with your culture? But hiring for a culture fit also suggests that those who don’t match the predetermined criteria of backgrounds, beliefs, and personalities shouldn’t be considered. And that’s where organizations run into problems. 

Good or bad, positive or negative, every company has a culture. And although it can be nurtured in specific directions, how your culture develops is tied directly to the people you bring onto your team. With every new hire, the company culture evolves. And that’s a good thing — despite everyone’s best efforts in creating positive core values and optimizing organizational behavior, no company culture is ever perfect.

When an organization hires for a culture fit, they’re essentially digging in and saying “This is the status quo for our company culture, and we don’t want to challenge it.” But challenging the status quo is not only healthy, it’s essential for businesses that want to remain dynamic and adaptable to meet the changing needs of their customers. As such, if you’re only looking for a culture fit, you’re not looking for valuable opportunities for growth.

As an added disadvantage, culture fit promotes established biases — even (and perhaps most commonly) in situations where the bias is completely unconscious. If most of the workforce is dominated by a single gender, orientation, ethnicity, religion, economic background, etc., then how will that impact who is being considered for a position and who is getting overlooked? 

Adding to the stakes, this particular issue can have legal implications. As the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) so eloquently puts it: “It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a job applicant because of his or her race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.”

Hiring for culture fit isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But hiring for a culture add is. 

Culture Add 

If a culture fit isn’t the right direction, then how should a business hire for culture? By focusing on culture add!

Hiring for culture add (also called add-to culture) is a recruitment and talent acquisition strategy that attempts to locate and fill the gaps in an existing company culture. 

The culture add concept is a recognition that (1) every company culture has room for improvement, and (2) nothing improves if it is forced to remain static. Hiring ‘more of the same’ just perpetuates the culture you already have, without opening up any space to grow. Going beyond simple conformity, culture-add hires force their brands to reevaluate values and add new aspects of culture that were in their blind spot before. It gives organizations the opportunity to incorporate new insights, backgrounds, and personality traits into your organization.

And these new insights can help you connect with your dynamically growing industry and customer base. 

Why Culture Add > Culture Fit

Culture fit reinforces uniformity while culture add advocates for diversity, and the data proves that diversity is a driver of success. Companies that rank high in gender diversity are 25% more likely to see above-average profits, Mckinsey reports, and organizations with ethnically diverse executive teams are 36% more likely to outperform their competitors.

The need for diversity is acknowledged when we hire for different skill sets. When you build a team, you’re not looking for five different people who all have the exact same abilities — you’re looking for five different people who can each bring their own unique skills to the table. Culture add expands upon this concept, ensuring that the candidates you bring into your business each contribute something new to your growing culture. 

Or, as Rebecca Anderson put it in her blog post What is culture add in hiring? A complete guide: “Too much culture fit is the death of creativity. Too many like-minded people do not have new thoughts and do not inspire each other to innovate through variety or friction.”

In other words, adding to your culture with an eye towards diversity (in all of its forms) will always be a better approach than just trying to find someone who “fits.”

How to Hire for Culture Add

OK. Every organization needs culture adds. But how do you find them?

Effectively hiring for culture add can be difficult. It demands that organizations take an unflinching look at themselves and a commitment to identify and address their own biases. It forces those involved out of their comfort zone of simply trying to fill a predetermined mold. And it’s certainly not an exact science. Still, there are steps you can take to help ensure that your next hire (and any hires that follow) aren’t just reinforcing an imperfect system. 

When making the switch to a culture-and recruitment strategy, consider the following practices:

  • Know Your Current Culture
    Before you can start hiring to expand your culture, you need to know where it stands right now. And while core values can be an effective way to put your ideal company culture into words, they’re not always fully accurate to the reality of how work gets done. Make an honest assessment of your culture. What kinds of actions and attitudes lead to advancement and what stands in the way? Surveying employees can also provide deeper insights that might not be apparent to managers or executives. 

  • Identify Areas Where It May Be Lacking
    With a clearer picture of your company culture, now it’s time to determine where it could be improved. Performing a gap analysis can help you identify the skills and perspectives you need that may not be currently represented in your workforce. 

  • Nurture Different Perspectives
    As new hires bring in new perspectives (or even conflicting ones), encourage them to be vocal and active in challenging the status quo. This includes identifying areas where there may be unspoken taboos regarding asking questions, addressing problems, or performing functions. Never penalize your people for trying something new, and make sure they know that your culture is a work in progress that they can have an active hand in defining — and redefining.

Building a Thriving Culture

Regardless of the company, culture rules. But it’s not indivisible. Culture is meant to grow and adapt. It thrives on new ideas and diversity. And that means that when it comes time to hire, you should be looking for people who can take your culture further. 

So, when a hypothetical hiring manager says that a candidate isn’t a culture fit, everyone should be able to get excited about just how beneficial that implication can be. 

Want to continue to grow and optimize your dynamic workplace culture? Talk to a Wellhub wellbeing specialist today about setting up a wellness program that helps everyone thrive!



Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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