What Is Culture Add And How To Hire For It

Group of diverse business colleagues communicating and having fun on a meeting in the office.

You know about culture fit and how important it is to hire for… or is it? 

In an era where most adults feel that a more diverse society is a positive thing, it’s a little contradictory that one of the most prominent hiring strategies focuses on onboarding people who are all the same. 

Today, many talent acquisition leaders are casting aside culture fit in favor of a more inclusive–and likely more profitable–hiring strategy: culture add. We’ll explain what culture add is, how it’s different from culture fit and how to identify it when you’re interviewing prospective candidates.

What Is Culture Add?

Culture add focuses on the unique contributions a candidate can make to an organization. What would this particular person bring to the table that’s different from all the other candidates or the company’s existing employees? Culture add is about celebrating individuality and promoting the input different types of people can offer. 

When you hire for culture add, you actively seek out qualities, perspectives and personalities that don’t already exist on the team. The goal is to build a more well-rounded, holistic workforce. 

Culture add is supported by the many well-documented benefits of diverse teams in the workplace. A McKinsey report found that companies, where teams were less homogenous, were more likely to have higher-than-average financial gains, especially if diversity existed within management. In another study of diverse versus non-diverse teams, the diverse teams proved more objective, accurate, and innovative than their non-diverse counterparts when completing various group tasks. 

It’s true that working on a more diverse team takes additional effort–participants must spend more time actively listening and attempting to see other points of view, for example. But the outcomes for business can pay off in terms of higher profitability and greater innovation. There’s also a greater sense of belonging among employees, which can boost retention.

Culture Add Vs. Culture Fit

So what’s the difference between culture add and culture fit?

Culture fit describes a candidate who fits in with a company’s norms, ascribes to its values, and follows its existing way of doing things. Hiring for culture fit means seeking out candidates who are likely to share a team’s perspectives and prefer the same work style as their colleagues. 

Culture add describes a candidate with a diverse perspective or different work style than what already exists on the team. There are various types of diversity that can contribute to culture add: demographic diversity, like age and gender; cognitive diversity, which means having a different point of view; and experiential diversity, which refers to the unique life experiences that shape how a person sees the world and operates within it. 

Related: Importance of Age Diversity

The Problem With Culture Fit

Hiring for culture fit is a noble ambition. It’s supposed to mean hiring people who are aligned with how the organization operates, for example, “employees who thrive here value collaboration and teamwork instead of a lone-wolf mentality.” In theory, hiring for culture fit increases efficiency, streamlines decision making, and ensures a high level of commitment to the company’s larger goals. 

In practice, however, many organizations get culture fit wrong. It’s all too easy for culture fit to be interpreted as hiring people who are “like me,” i.e. someone you can imagine grabbing a beer with or someone who’d be a great addition to the company’s rec softball team. 

Take, for example, a company that makes a vegan product. If the idea of culture fit is over-emphasized, it wouldn’t be hard to envision hiring managers weeding out any candidates who eat meat or wear leather. This is a low-stakes example, but more problematic cases exist in many industries.

Relying too heavily on culture fit is a slippery slope that can become a crutch for lazy hiring and an excuse for maintaining the status quo. It’s a threat to diversity that can lead to groupthink, which inhibits innovation.

If you’ve been using culture fit as a hiring benchmark, you don’t have to completely throw it out the window. It is a good idea, however, to take a closer look at how it’s impacting the makeup of your teams. It might be time to start placing more of an emphasis on culture add instead of fit. 

Related: How to Hire for Diversity

5 Interview Questions To Identify Culture Add

Here are some suggested interview questions to identify candidates who will contribute to and complement your company culture.  

How would you describe your work style?

Hiring for culture add doesn’t always mean seeking out people who do things differently than you do. Rather, it means identifying candidates who are open to doing things differently when the situation calls for it. Look for candidates who describe how they work using words like flexible, adaptable, and collaborative.

How do you define success?

Sometimes, homogenous teams can get boxed in working toward the same goals, using the same strategies they’ve always used. This can lead to complacency. A fresh perspective on success can push people to think beyond their comfort zones and break through plateaus.  

Describe a time when your unique background helped you solve a problem. 

This question gives candidates an opening to talk more about their personal background and how they use it as an asset. For hiring managers, it can give you a glimpse into how the candidate makes decisions and how that might look when incorporated into your team. 

Tell me about a time when you had to work with someone who had a different perspective on how to approach a task. How did you handle it?

Shifting to a ‘culture add’ mentality will come with some discomfort; that’s almost always the case when people are confronted with viewpoints that differ from their own. Being able to work through this discomfort to arrive at practical solutions is a necessary skill. 

Based on what you know about our company’s culture, values, or operations, what’s something you think we could improve?

The answers to this question can be illuminating when they come from a diverse pool of candidates. Even answers from applicants you don’t ultimately hire can be an impetus for growth.

By shifting your focus from culture fit to culture add, you’ll be less susceptible to the downsides of having a homogenous team and enjoy the many benefits that stem from greater diversity.


Resources and sources

  1. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/06/14/most-americans-express-positive-views-of-countrys-growing-racial-and-ethnic-diversity/
  2. https://hbr.org/2016/11/why-diverse-teams-are-smarter
  3. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/06/diversity-jobs-professions-america/396632/
Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the president of 4 Corner Resources, the nationally acclaimed staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. His mission back then was the same as it is today: to do business in a personal way, while building an organization with boundless opportunities for ingenuity and advancement. When not managing 4 Corner’s growth or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his sales and business expertise though public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Hire Calling podcast.