For decades, executives have stressed the importance of hiring for cultural fit. You often hear discussions about cultural fit among people on recruitment and selection committees, as well as by people working for executive search firms. Recently, though, Adam Grant of the Wharton School has made an important point about the downside of hiring for cultural fit, and he's received a great deal of attention for his thought-provoking and insightful comments. Here's what Grant has said, as reported in an interview with Dan Schawbel for Fortune.
First, stop hiring on cultural fit. That’s a great way to breed groupthink. Emphasizing cultural fit leads you to bring in a bunch of people who think in similar ways to your existing employees. There’s evidence that once a company goes public, those that hire on cultural fit actually grow more slowly because they struggle to innovate and change. It’s wiser to follow the example from the design firm IDEO, and hire on cultural contribution. Instead of looking for people who fit the culture, ask what’s missing from your culture, and select people who can bring that to the table.
Is he right? I htink he makes a strong argument for avoiding groupthink. Managers do have a very unfortunate tendency to hire people who look, think, and act much as they do. To be effective, leaders need to consider hiring people who think differently, who complement and augment their own skills and abilities (rather than replicating the expertise and modes of thinking already on the team).
Having said that, I think there are some important aspects of "fit" that need to be considered when hiring. Otherwise, new employees will either face organ rejection at their new firms, or they will have an adverse impact on the organization's effectiveness. First and foremost, it's very important to make sure that a new hire shares the same values as the organization he or she will be joining. Second, does the new hire believe in the mission of the enterprise? Do they feel passionately about the organization's purpose? They may have different views about the means to achieve those objectives. That's healthy. Finally, will the person's leadership approach enable others to succeed? Hopefully, the hiring organization has leaders in place who have created a safe place where others can speak up, discuss mistakes, express dissent, and ask challenging questions. New hires have to be able to create a safe climate for their employees as well. If they a history of acting in ways that discourage others from speaking up, then they won't "fit" and they will have an adverse impact on the organization's effectiveness.