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Culture fit vs. culture add

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Smart organizations are paying lots of attention to culture in hiring—and for good reason. Recent research shows that a top driver of employee engagement is organizational culture. 

The term “culture fit” gets thrown around a lot, and some people misinterpret it to mean homogeneity. But a company full of carbon copies is terrible for everyone. While there are behavioral traits and tendencies that may lend themselves to executing your business strategy, not everyone in your organization needs to be wired just the same. Diversity of all kinds—behavioral, thought, cultural—can take your organization to newer heights.

What is culture?

Culture comprises the traits, behaviors, and approaches that are encouraged and rewarded. It refers to the complicated interpersonal and organizational dynamics that may not show up in job descriptions but which absolutely set the conditions for success.

Ideally, your organizational culture is aligned with your business strategy—it’s made up of the attitudes and behaviors required to achieve business results.

What is culture fit?

Culture fit is when an employee or candidate is aligned with the organization’s core values and company culture.

For example, here at The Predictive Index®, our core values are teamwork, honesty, reliability, energy, action, drive, and scope. During our interview process, we have a dedicated interviewer who interviews against these core values. They ask questions to assess whether the candidate embodies these values, which are critical to our success as we grow rapidly over the next few years.

Assessing whether candidates fit your company’s culture is a critical aspect of optimizing talent and getting the right people in place for your business strategy to thrive. After all, if someone’s not aligned with your cultural values, how happy are they going to be working for you? How long will it take before they become disengaged and less productive?

When working to create an award-winning culture, culture fit is a great place to start. It gets people talking about the speed at which your organization moves, how successful teams and workers function, and how not every company is created the same.

But culture fit can only take you so far. Focusing solely on culture fit will land you a homogeneous culture—and we know that diversity in the workforce is key to long-term success.

Culture fit = homogeneity

The next consideration—the Holy Grail of culture, if you will—is the “culture add.”

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What is culture add?

Culture add encompasses all aspects of culture fit (i.e., championing the behaviors that will lead to organizational success). Critically, though, culture add asks additional questions:

What do we want the company to be?

How do we hire employees who add to our current culture and make it even better?

Where are our cultural blindspots?

The notion behind culture add is that diverse, self-aware teams are more powerful than homogenous ones. Diversity of thought and experience can help organizations see business initiatives through a new lens, avoiding critical mistakes that can cost the company its reputation.

Culture allows the entire organization to tap into Carol Dweck’s celebrated growth mindset. When you add to your culture, you maximize the number of perspectives and different types of employees and leaders who have a voice and a seat at the table. In effect, you create an organization with its very own growth mindset.

A great lens on culture can become a self-perpetuating mechanism. A diverse set of voices and experiences will drum up ways that your organization can shift its culture and practices to be more inclusive of new diverse hires, and so on, and so on.

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When should you start focusing on culture add?

Assessing for culture fit works well in small businesses where there may be a scrappiness or DIY ethos needed as you bootstrap your way into scalability. If your business is small and scaling rapidly, interviewing for culture fit ensures you don’t hire only high patience, detail-oriented folks when the business strategy requires high-risk, action-oriented individuals.

But at some point—usually around 100-150 employees—the mindset needs to shift from culture fit to culture add. How you built your company up to 100 employees is going to be different than how you grow to 500 employees. You may need to add some folks who’ve been there and done that in a larger and more complicated ecosystem. Or, you may simply need team members who look at the same problems in a different light.

One caveat: Change happens slowly.

Think of culture as a cruise ship: It’s slow to start, but once it gets going, it has tons of momentum—and there are no sudden turns allowed unless you want to sink. If you want your culture to change, you need to take small steps today that might bear fruit 3-6 months from now. At that point, you can reassess and determine if your culture initiatives are working or if there are other changes you’d like to implement.

As long as your organization has leaders who are self-aware and open to change, you can start turning the tide by specifically seeking out folks to drive your cultural transformation.


Will is the Director of Talent Optimization at PI.

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