Culture add vs. Culture Fit

Written by Danika Turner

The term ‘culture fit’ is no longer what it once was. For decades, it was a widely accepted factor in many organisations’ hiring strategies. But in recent years, this phrase has been cancelled, with many progressive employers believing it to be discrimination in disguise.

Most well-meaning employers would like to believe that being a ‘great culture fit’ implies an alignment with the organisation’s values, mission and vision. Unfortunately, the subconscious criteria usually look a lot more like – will they get along well with the team? Will they contribute to the office banter? Will they join us for a beer after work? Will they accept the way we do things here? 

When you hire with this unconscious bias, you inevitably end up with a team of lookalike, soundalike, think-a-like employees that feels more like a cult than a culture. And if culture fit by its very nature implies blending in, how can companies expect to stand out? 

Entrepreneur Shane Snow uses a great analogy to explain this:

“Let’s imagine that you wanted to start a rock band. But for the sake of unity, you decide that every member of the band had to play electric guitar. And they all needed to have grown up listening to the exact same music as you. To stand out you don’t need more carbon copy guitarists. You need a violinist. And a DJ. This is how we create new sounds.”

Now, let’s consider what it looks like to hire from a culture add perspective. This approach goes beyond looking at skills, professional experience, age, gender or ethnicity. It’s about asking yourself not, ‘how will this person fit into our culture?’ but rather, ‘how will they make our culture better?’. And that requires showing a genuine interest in a candidate’s unique background, personality, beliefs, views and abilities.

People that add to the team culture help to create a richer and more inclusive environment. A kind of environment where people feel empowered to do their best work. Here’s how you can shift from a ‘culture fit’ to a ‘culture add’ mentality and build diverse teams that thrive.


Check the pulse of your company culture 

Get clear on your company values and purpose before you start hiring. Be honest about which core values are fundamental to your organisation’s success, and which are just corporate ‘fluff’. This becomes a baseline to assess candidates based on values/purpose alignment, and ensure you’re building a team who believes in the business and where it’s heading. Now you can look at the individual characteristics that make up that human and avoid hiring clones!

Another important thing to consider before hiring is whether you have already created an inclusive, welcoming place to work. For example, is your workplace wheelchair accessible? Do you represent diverse ethnicities in your team images? Does your website say that you encourage applicants from all backgrounds to apply? If your workplace is truly inclusive you will attract diverse talent.

Actively look for candidates who see the world differently to you

This may seem simple, but if you’re used to hiring based on culture fit, you’re likely gravitating towards candidates you can relate to. It’s human nature but challenge yourself to look beyond quirks. You might meet people who present as a bit odd, reserved or overly enthusiastic – these differences shouldn’t be deal-breakers. It’s what makes people interesting.

Another way of breaking this cycle is to expand your search into other communities and industries. This might require a bit more effort, but it’s worth it. Go to events you might not usually go to, network in new circles and explore rural talent (after all, we’re more equipped to work remotely than ever). Remember that some skills are transferable, industry knowledge can be learnt, and an outsider’s perspective could be just what you need. 

Keep being curious

When you think you’ve mastered the art of culture add hiring, think again. Psychologist Adam Grant says, “the moment where you find a skill or a background that you think is uniquely great, is the moment you need to think again about what else is missing from your culture.” So, keep pushing the boundaries of what you think your next hire should look like and resist the temptation to mould new hires to fit your existing culture. 

Shifting from a ‘culture fit’ to ‘culture add’ hiring approach takes time. Because the work doesn’t stop once the new employee is onboarded. It requires a conscious effort and commitment from the top, and the support of all employees to embrace each new team member’s differences. Especially if they are expecting a new member of the ‘cult’. To effectively transition from a cult to a culture, we need leaders to model acceptance and bring their teams along the journey.

Naturally, culture is an organic proposition that shifts as the business changes and as people come and go, so having basic first tenets that ground us and tell us who we are collectively are important. We have a set of People Principles that establish a true north for Audible as we continue to evolve and the outside world transforms around us.

Ara Tucker – SVP, Head of Talent & Culture @ Audible

This approach can be uncomfortable, but from discomfort comes growth and innovation. Those brave enough to embrace it will build a culture that’s deeply committed to inclusion and embraces new ways of thinking. We know which band we’d want to be part of.  

Ready to build culture add hiring into your strategy? Hit us up! 

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