Why Hiring for Culture Fit Is OK

Four common misconceptions are hurting companies’ talent strategies.

In a recent article published in Harvard Business Review, Joeri Hofmans and Timothy A. Judge argue that much of the controversy surrounding hiring for culture fit can be summarized in four common misconceptions. Using scientific research, they demonstrate that clearing up those misconceptions can help managers measure culture fit correctly and improve their talent strategies.

Misconception #1: Culture fit is a “nice to have” but not a necessity.

According to this misconception, one should hire on skills and competences rather than on culture fit. Although skills and competences are undisputedly important for one’s organizational functioning, studies convincingly show that people whose values fit the values of their organization or team stay longer and perform better than people with a lower value fit. Hence, empirical evidence suggests that culture fit is at least as important to overall organizational functioning as hiring for other qualities.

Misconception #2: Hiring for culture fit hurts diversity.

Rather than evaluating the extent to which one’s personal characteristics, such as gender, ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation align with those of the current workforce, culture fit should focus on assessing value fit. This is crucial because research shows that high levels of value fit buffer some of the negative consequences that come with a diverse workforce (such as higher turnover intentions). The key argument here is that, when done right, hiring for culture fit enriches rather than undermines diversity in your organization.

Misconception #3: Hiring for culture fit hurts innovation.

The core idea underlying this misconception is that, if everyone is the same, creative thinking and therefore innovation is reduced. Research, however, shows that people can think differently while still maintaining the same values. In fact, people have been shown to be more accepting of diverse ideas of others when value fit is high. Moreover, high value fit keeps everyone aligned in those cases when innovation involves conflict and difficult processes. Again, hiring based on fit appears to enhance rather than hurt innovation.

Misconception #4: Hiring for culture fit is an art, not science.

Assessing value fit using intuition and “gut feelings” is a bad idea because it is full of biases. Hiring for culture fit requires proper measurement, which consists of three steps:

  1. First, you need to measure the actual values of the organization or team. This is done by measuring the values of each employee in the organization or team.
  2. Second, the candidate should be measured using the same standardized instrument.
  3. Third, one needs to objectively compare the candidate’s value profile with that of the overall organization or team. Algorithms are needed here because they minimize bias at this step.

In sum, Joeri Hofmans and Tim Judge conclude that hiring on culture fit is something organizations can and should do. With the proper definition of culture fit and good objective tools, managers can ensure they hire people who can align on the team’s and organization’s values, and do much to enhance their levels of engagement, satisfaction, and retention.