Deck the Halls with Diversity: Culture Fit vs. Culture Add

Updated: Mar 13

Focus on culture in the workplace has been around since the 1980’s, when corporate leadership, sociologist, and organizational theorists began the movement of actively recognizing employees as individuals with needs for a certain environment in order to thrive. Over time, decision makers began deliberately hiring for “culture fit", intentionally choosing to only bring on candidates they felt would perpetuate an already existing company culture. The hiring determinant became more about who you’d want to have a beer with after work, rather than who could bring something different, valuable, and unique to the table-in other words, a “culture fit” as opposed to a “culture add”.

You’ve probably heard or read about culture fit before. Maybe you’ve experienced it yourself as a jobseeker, or someone leading the hiring process. “We’re looking for the perfect fit for our team!” “Think you’d be a great fit? Apply now!” Or maybe it was unspoken, unconsciously affecting how you experienced the interview process. Did you respond honestly to all questions asked, or did you try to convince the decision maker that you’d flawlessly fit right in, instead? As the interviewer, were you thinking “what is this person lacking?", or alternatively, "what unique qualities can this person bring to the team?"?

Whether you've initiated or experienced it (or both), you’re not alone. Personally and professionally, we tend to surround ourselves with people who are like us-who think like us, and have the same interests as we do. It’s comfortable, and it’s safe. However, that doesn’t make it smart, especially when it comes to business. Culture fit is an outdated ideology that doesn't have a place in today’s diverse and fluid world. Instead, organizations should focus on the much more dynamic alternative: culture add.

Here’s why:

Not having diversity of thought, or variety of perspectives, on your team impacts every part of your business, including your product, culture, and how customers experience your brand. Diversity of thought creates value, which is limited or non-existent when your entire team thinks, acts, and works in the exact same way.

But how do you attain diversity of thought?

When hiring, there should be an emphasis on individuals who are a culture add as opposed to a culture fit. During the interview process, you as the decision maker should focus on hiring people who align with your values, both as a company and as a team, but not necessarily people who fit into your already existing culture. Culture adds, as a general rule, cultivate more productive, collaborative workspaces with distinct perspectives.

I personally was always taught to practice what I preach, and thankfully the team at Skillhus does just that! Jyoti, Hanne and I all come from very different backgrounds, and one of the most exciting ways to celebrate diversity is through holidays. A lot of us think of Christmas when we imagine this time of the year, but there are many who don’t celebrate Christmas and instead observe other holidays, or no holiday at all, either through religious affiliation or personal choice. The three of us on the Skillhus team all celebrate Christmas, but in different ways, and even on different days: as Norwegians, Jyoti and Hanne celebrate on the 24th of December, and as an American, I celebrate on the 25th!

Prior to writing this article, I asked Jyoti and Hanne to share some of their typical holiday traditions with me. I learned that Hanne and her family eat pinnekjøtt with potatoes and kålrabistappe on the 24th, and homemade lasagna as an homage to her Italian partner’s culture and traditions on the 25th. Jyoti indulges in sweets while watching the Nutcracker in her pjs with her sister and nieces on Christmas Eve, and fondly remembers the hot summer Christmas BBQ’s she hosted with her husband in Australia for 10 years. I share enthusiastically in my husband’s appreciation of ribbe and akevitt for dinner on the 24th, and open “Norwegian” gifts during the evening. On the 25th, we wake up to stockings stuffed by Santa, “American” gifts, cinnamon rolls, and extra fancy coffee. These small differences are what make us who we are, and the recognition and celebration of our diversity are a big part of what makes our team so strong.

In addition to inquiring about traditions, I also asked Hanne and Jyoti two other questions:

1. Have you worked for companies in the past that recognized/celebrated Christmas?

2. Have you worked for companies in the past that recognized/celebrated other holidays this time of year other than Christmas? (for example: Diwali, Lunar New Year, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule Winter Solstice, Three Kings Day)

Interestingly, both answered “yes” on the first question, and “no” on the second; my answers are the same.

What does this mean when it comes to culture add vs culture fit, and the overall diversity and inclusion of our workplaces? Surely, at least one of us previously worked in a company which employed someone(s) who celebrated different holidays than we did. Imagine the amount of “add” that we, our team, and our employers, missed out on by not acknowledging this diversity!

As we enter into the thick of the holiday season, I would like to challenge you, both as individuals and leaders, to actively seek creating a sense of belonging and inclusion in your organizations. Initiate communication with employees that come from different cultures and backgrounds, and include them in the conversation. If they’re comfortable with it, acknowledge their unique “adds'' through company wide communication and encourage sharing and education of their traditions. If someone chooses to bring in traditional food as a way of spreading holiday cheer, don’t forget to invite Skillhus. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask questions in your quest to foster a sense of true belonging, where everyone feels that they can show up as themselves, be accepted, be different, and be celebrated!

Fitting in was never much fun, anyways.

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