Experts warn and practitioners worry that ‘hiring for culture fit’ is biased, but it’s more nuanced than that. I come at it from a different angle. While basing hiring decisions on culture fit does often conflict with diversity and inclusion initiatives, it’s not the hiring strategy itself that’s the problem. It’s the culture. Specifically, it’s the lack of defined, value-based cultural principles, without which hiring for “culture fit” typically manifests as hiring for “sameness.” And of course, that’s about as far from diverse as you can get.
Get culture right, though, and hiring for fit can actually be a powerful tool for diversity and inclusion. But what does getting culture “right” entail? That’s what this post is about.
Below, I outline the three steps to creating a company culture you can confidently make a core part of your hiring process, and how to implement it. (I should note: I recognize that the “three steps to XYZ” format risks oversimplifying a process that is anything but simple. These are, however, the main tenets of an undeniably complex — but critical — process.)
1. Decide on and Define Cultural Principles
Senior leadership must be heavily involved here. The HR or talent team can manage the initiative if necessary, but for cultural pillars to permeate the organization and take hold on an individual level — which is key in locking out bias — execs must be bought in.
It’s likely that “company values” have been discussed before and you may even have them posted on your walls. But can everyone recite them? Is everyone living them? Are decisions made based on them?
Take this as an opportunity to recommit to or redefine your cultural principles: the values the company stands for, and the beliefs that employees share (or ideally would share).
2. Ensure the Principles are Unbiased
Note the use of “values” and “beliefs” in the previous sentence — these are what make up a robust, unbiased culture. Values and beliefs are neutral alignment factors, as opposed to things like personality type, demographics, background, or past experience that unfortunately come to define culture in organizations that are less intentional about this process.
Two examples of notable cultural principles I often like to give are Zillow’s “winning is fun” and Airbnb’s “elephants, dead fish, and vomit” (aka honest communication). These are beliefs and values that have nothing to do with individual characteristics — it’s equally possible for people of all walks of life to align with these principles.
Being a “culture fit” at these companies is not about sharing the same personality or alma mater with your team; it’s about believing in and valuing the same things.
3. Make Culture Fit Measurable
So you’ve got your principles identified, defined, checked for bias, and communicated broadly. Now: How do you hire by them? How does one assess values and beliefs? It’s easy enough for a candidate to look up your culture pillars and pay lip service to them in the interview — but how do you determine if the person truly is a fit?
The best way to objectively measure a candidate’s alignment with your culture is to map your principles to competencies. By “competencies” I mean the skills, behaviors, talents, and approaches that go hand-in-hand with certain values and beliefs. These are things that can be standardized, tested for, and measured against, whereas principles can be fuzzy.
At Koru, we’ve identified a set of seven bias-free competencies — “The Koru7 Impact Skills” — that are proven indicators of a candidate’s future success in a given role and/or company. These competencies are Grit, Ownership, Curiosity, Polish, Teamwork, Rigor, and Impact, and we frequently find that our customers’ cultural values ladder up to one or more of them as sub-competencies of the broader skills. Examples: The value “growth mindset” is a sub-competency of Grit. “Diversity and inclusion” is a sub-competency of Teamwork. And so on.
The point is to nail down quantitative expressions of the pillars that make up your company culture, and then assess for them in candidates.
This is how you hire for culture fit in a way that is supportive of diversity and inclusion. You commit to getting culture right, make your company principles measurable, and make high-quality hires based on fit. It’s not an easy process, at least when you’re laying the groundwork — but the benefits are improved diversity, inclusion, and performance.
To see the first post in this series, check out Hiring for Culture Fit Isn’t Biased If You’re Doing Culture Right.
Kristen Hamilton is the Co-Founder and CEO of Koru, the leader in predictive hiring. As a technology entrepreneur and executive with a passion for impact, Kristen has a successful track record driving value for customers and investors. She co-founded e-commerce pioneer Onvia and took it public in 2000. Kristen built the organization to 500 people, raised over $300 million of investment capital, and led the M&A team to acquire and integrate four private companies in two years. Kristen then shifted focus to education and talent acquisition, as head of educator strategy at Microsoft, and COO of World Learning, where she ran operations in 66 countries.More from Kristen Hamilton