Striking a Balance Between Cultural Fit and Diversity

Determining the best candidate to hire for open executive-level positions is a challenging and often lengthy process. You may be inclined to offer the position to the person with whom you really “hit it off” in the interview. From the moment they walked in the door, they seemed to understand the way the company worked. Their goals align well with the direction that you want the company to take. Your gut tells you that this person would be a perfect fit for your c-suite.

An individual’s cultural fit within an organization is challenging to quantify and can seem ambiguous at best. It often boils down to subjective criteria, which are immeasurable and subject to personal bias. Like-minded individuals are often attracted to one another and work well with one another. Hiring an executive with a good cultural fit promotes effective teamwork and goal achievements in the workplace.

However, choosing the candidate with whom you have the most in common arguably results in less diversity among executives. Multiple studies on the subject of increasing diversity in an organization have drawn the same conclusion; diversity breeds innovation and creativity, as every employee brings different experiences and knowledge to the table. Thus, the question becomes, “Should you sacrifice the benefits of diversity to obtain the best cultural fit?”

Conflicting Definitions

Accurately determining the importance of the cultural fit of potential candidates may require narrowing and clarifying the definition of cultural fit. In many contexts, recruiters may view cultural matches as those individuals who are similar to existing employees in a company. They may be from similar backgrounds, of the same race, or gender. However, this view of cultural fit fails to embody the heart of the issue and will inevitably hinder progress towards promoting diversity.

Cultural fit has less to do with demographics and more to do with underlying values and behavioral norms. The benefits of recruiting candidates that are a cultural fit result from these shared values that lead employees to work together to achieve common goals and outcomes. These values are not specific to one group or type of person. They are shared among diverse populations.

Identifying individuals whose values align well with those of your organization yields employees who are more satisfied with their work and more committed to the organization. They perform better because they are engaged in their work, receiving more promotions, bonuses, and stellar performance evaluations. Voluntary and involuntary departures among this group are also low.

Balancing Diversity and Culture

However, hiring purely based on culture and values disregards the benefits reaped by companies that pursue diversity among employees and executives. Individuals from varied backgrounds have a variety of unique experiences in their rear-view and approach problem-solving in new and innovative ways. However, bringing together diverse minds and ideas can be challenging. Groups that are too demographically diverse may struggle to work together effectively and efficiently to meet deadlines.

A set of shared underlying values can help bridge the gaps between individuals, allowing all to feel connected to the team working towards a shared goal despite their unique approaches to achieving success. Shared company culture can lead individuals to accept new ideas, allowing individuals to think differently about the path the team is taking to reach their common goals. Identifying with the team fuels innovation and collaboration.

Cultural Adaptability

Striving to find the perfect candidate who brings diverse ideas and aligns perfectly with your company culture may leave you empty-handed and understaffed. However, many skilled individuals can quickly learn and adapt to cultural norms, expectations, and values. In many cases, this ability to change as the company grows and develops is more desirable than finding that perfect match. Growing companies are dynamic environments. Over time, the direction and goals will change, and those that can remain in sync with these changes are more likely to stay with the corporation.

Quantifying Culture

Most measures of company values such as employee surveys and questionnaires are subjective, relying on opinions. Accurately determining what an organization values requires standardization of both the existing company values and applicants’ values. Ideally, executive recruiters should use the same tool to evaluate both and then compare the results. Applicants who highly value traits that the company emphasizes as well are likely to fit in well and thrive in that environment.

Big data is now beginning to offer a new way to analyze company culture. With the ability to analyze the words and ideas expressed in emails, Glassdoor reviews, and text conversations, big data may hold the key to quantifying the atmosphere from an employee perspective. What is actually valued by executives and employees alike?

As you strive to find the best executive candidate to lead your company, you would be wise to consider not only their values but their skills and background. The unifying effects of cultural fit mitigate the challenges that may arise in a diverse workforce bringing together diverse ideas to reach shared goals.


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