“Culture Fit” as Legal Discrimination

I loved working for Starbucks. Howard was an incredibly inspiring and connected leader. The company really did a great job working to make the stores a third place for its customers. Despite its size, it felt small and entrepreneurial, as much as could be.

When hiring, we wanted to preserve that culture and we would specifically and regularly use cultural fit as a reason to hire people or not. Over time though as I started recruiting from the military community, being that my geography was around a military base, my passion for cultural fit hiring started to be challenged.

Reason being, military members didn't specifically fit the mold we had dubbed as "our" culture as perfectly as candidates from other industries and communities. And that didn't set well with me. I knew they would enhance our community, our company and our culture precisely because of their diversity of thought and background but it was a struggle for me and others internally at first to wrap our arms and minds around it until Howard, our CEO, became personally passionate about the military community too and then it became a company wide priority.

But it still took expanding our minds about what cultural fit meant.

Adam Grant in his book Originals talks about a study done by researcher and author Lauren Rivera that found that hiring managers would use “cultural fit” against candidates not exactly like themselves. When I read that, it hit me hard and I realized that is basically what we were doing. I felt guilty at first but proud that we eventually started to expand our minds about what "cultural fit" meant and started hiring people that may not have been a typical or traditional hire.

If Not Cultural Fit, Then What?

Culture Add vs. Culture Fit

Adam suggests instead focus on cultural impact. This visual illustrates it well. Basically if you hire for a not clearly defined, more gut intuition culture you're more prone to hiring someone exactly like you. This ultimately reduces diversity and innovation. People are more likely to just conform than test, experiment, challenge, etc. And unless your organization has no desire to change, grow or evolve (which only the extinct have in common), then "culture fit" could be holding you back.

Explicit, Clear Values

Now it doesn't mean that cultural values go out the window, on the contrary. It means be very explicit about your values. And they should be behavioral based vs. just a word. For example,

"Integrity" versus "we speak and act the truth in all we do".

See the difference?

One is much more actionable than the other. And it lends to helping grow diversity in the hiring process versus hurting. The company with "speak and act the truth" as a value could then ask questions related to that and I ideally put the candidate into real scenarios to see if they are honest in their actions. Like for an example, leave a $5 on the floor next to them and leave the room and see what they do.

The point is when you know the behavior you're looking for in someone, the style matters less. So you can then be open to differences in approach or feel and focus on whether or not you see the action that's consistent with the behaviors of the rest of your organization.

Adam Grant's Originals

Devin W. Craig



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