Is 'culture add' the new culture fit?

Recruiting for cultural fit is not about hiring people just like you. It’s about recruiting individuals who will thrive in your workplace culture.

Get it right and you will help build cohesive, high-performing teams and a better bottom line. Get it wrong and you may see growing dissatisfaction among your workforce and a higher turnover rate.

The job interview process is the vital time to establish whether a candidate will gel with your organisation. So, how can you use this time effectively and what questions should you ask to help you assess cultural fit? 

Understanding your values

If recruiting for cultural fit means hiring people who will succeed in your workplace environment, you must be clear on what your company stands for and ensure your values are clearly defined.

Insurance giant QBE is currently undergoing a large-scale transformation to become a more customer-centric organisation. This involves embedding new cultural elements, known as the ‘QBE DNA’. Sally Kincaid, Chief HR Officer at QBE Australia and New Zealand says “people and culture” are vital to the company’s future success and are a prominent feature of its strategic priorities.

“Setting financial targets to strive towards is one thing, but to create a strong brand, a positive reputation and attract and retain loyal customers, that comes down to our people living up to the promises we make. In turn, having a vibrant culture can attract the right people, so it works both ways.”

When assessing cultural fit, Kincaid says QBE hiring managers consider whether the candidates’ own values align with those of the company and whether this will be reflected in their behaviour. 

“Behavioural interview questions can reveal a lot about a person’s approach and communication style and can often give a good read on cultural fit without specifically asking,” says Kincaid. “However, I think it’s also important for hiring managers to talk about the [workplace] culture and ask candidates to give examples of how they demonstrate those values themselves.”

Uncovering a candidate’s purpose

The interview process generally allows limited time to get to know a candidate, so it’s important that questions allow you to assess skills and experience as well cultural fit. Direct interview questions may include ‘what kind of culture do you think you’d thrive in?’ or ask candidates to describe specific scenarios, such as how they have worked well in a team.  

Amanda Green, a Director in PWC’s HR Consulting Practice says recruiting for cultural fit comes down to alignment with the purpose of an organisation. “We used to use the concept of values, but I think it’s now more helpful to ask how our purpose aligns with their purpose,” she says. 

“From their perspective, what are the moments that inspire them and energise them? What are the work environments that they know allow them to get the best out of themselves? When working in a team, what were the attributes that made it really successful? Questions are less about how they demonstrate our values – it’s more important to understand what motivates an individual and how we might be able to address that. It becomes a two-way conversation.”

Adding something extra

Recruiting for cultural fit can help ensure employees thrive in an organisation, however many hiring managers are now seeking candidates who can enhance their workplace by adding something to its culture.

“More and more, organisations are looking for diversity of experience, demographics and ways of thinking,” say Kinkaid. “If we focus too much on ‘cultural fit’ we might run the risk of selecting more people who ‘fit the mould’ rather than helping us build a team that will add value and help drive our success, while still being aligned to our values.”

Green adds that recruiting for ‘cultural add’ can help an organisation navigate through challenging times.

“We’re working in a marketplace that is quite changeable at the moment and traditional parts of our business are being disrupted, so it’s incumbent upon us to ensure we’re moving in the right direction and are as agile as possible,” she says. 

“We look for people with value to add to the organisation. It’s not just about demographic diversity or gender diversity – we want people with different interests, unique communication styles and perspectives.” 

Green notes that this creates additional challenges for HR to ensure that such a diverse workforce remains cohesive. “In terms of culture add, it’s not about bringing in people’s new ideas and putting them into the exact same system,” she says. “It’s about asking the business to think differently. It’s not without its challenges but the value we get out of it is worth more to us in terms of creating a really great firm.”

Get interview ready

Prepare for your next interview with SEEK’s Interview Builder. This easy-to-use resource provides access to 40 best-practice interview questions in an easy drag-and-drop format. 

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