• Sarah Cameron

Should You Hire for Culture or Values Fit?


Often touted as the next generation of recruitment, values-based hiring seeks to attract those who align with an organisations values or culture. At face value, what's not to like? What's wrong with organisations trying to attract people who fit what they are trying to build? Or is it worth a deep dive into the potential implications of values-based hiring, not all of which are advantageous?


What is Hiring for Cultural Fit?


The challenge regarding the idea of cultural fit – and the critical element in understanding if it might be taken too far – is figuring out how far recruiters and leaders want to take this strategy. In its purest form, seeking cultural fit is finding applicants who are well-aligned to an organisation's vision, values, mission, and purpose. Much like dating, there's rarely a perfect match, so recruiters seek a 'best fit.’


Loosely, seeking a 'cultural' fit typically means finding someone who will ‘fit in.' It could mean fitting into the office's culture or someone the recruiter or hiring manager might get an indescribable 'positive feeling.'


Does Hiring for Cultural Fit Create Bias?

The challenge with this latter approach is that it's too easy and prone to bias. As humans, we naturally gravitate towards people like ourselves. These foggy hiring decisions occur throughout the organisation but might be more likely at line staff level, where formal interview processes are less likely to be scrutinised. Across all roles, managers are more likely to favour extroverts, who are seen to have a natural advantage to claim roles over introverted people because they ‘can,’ appear more confident.


Even 'proper' values-based recruitment is typically more structured and includes wordy interview guides posing value-y questions, creating bias. This can be compared to the current crop of Fortune 500 CEOs. As of 2020, 90% of these people – the cultural figurehead of companies – are white males, and Black people make up less than three percent of senior leadership roles.


Pros and Cons of Values-Based Hiring

Momentarily disregarding the diversity question, values-based hiring can create cliques, little (or large) pods of like-minded, like-valued people who can create several inclusion and engagement dilemmas for organisations. After all, at what point does socialisation become cliquey?


Almost every book on building engaged, effective teams maintains that it's always better to have a happy mix of people who bring varied values, outlooks, ways of working, and, crucially, ideas. Indeed, it's best to encourage these differences?


Interestingly (or annoyingly), the argument for values-based hiring is as compelling as those against it. Google openly advocates the advantages of this approach:


"If we hire you based on your skills, we'll get a skilled employee. If we hire you based on your skills, your enduring passions, and your distinct experiences and perspectives, we'll get a Googler. That's what we want."


Googlers – or other organisations' versions of Googlers – will collaborate effectively, remain in their roles for longer, and drive employee engagement. Having said this, the risks of values-based hiring might outweigh benefits. Many leaders would take greater diversity over low turnover any day of the week.


What's the answer?

Put simply, hedge your bets. There is a way to do this – even Google hints at a combined approach in the above quote from their careers site. One blog encourages leaders to be open-minded in their recruitment methods, which is a big ask and a broad goal. Competency-based interview questions, which are the backbone of values-based recruiting, are useful but must be taken with a pinch of salt. Run through the interview but ask open-ended questions to gain a multi-dimensional opinion of the candidate.


Better yet – and if your time and resources allow – create a staged recruitment process to allow for various assessments of disparate qualities. This could include assessment centres to evaluate social interactions or behavioural interviews to understand how past performance could indicate future performance.


Final Thoughts


Balancing the need to find people whose skills and personalities align with organisational values might sound too good to be true, but it is achievable, with a little hard work. Values-based hiring can offer many advantages but finding a way to dull the 'edge-of-the-tool,' is critical. Not doing this can set an organisation back in terms of diversity and inclusion, the generation of ideas, and team cohesion.