Why a hiring manager who looks for cultural fit might be doing it all wrong.

by Jobbatical February 09, 2017


Diversity. Immigration. Cultural fit. These are hot topics right now. Between the politics of the moment (think the recent immigration battles in the U.S. and Brexit) and divisions in society becoming more acute (at least if you read the popular media), how do we as business leaders continue to promote diversity? Should we?

If you’ve been following the news lately, you might realize there are seismic shifts going on in the movement of people around the world. There’s also a lot of noise about the value or risk of these movements. Whatever your beliefs on these issues, the world is changing. Right now the debates may be on keeping borders, sovereignty and national identity but what people may not realize is that a shift has already occurred. The Internet has created a borderless society. There is no going back.

In fact, a Pew Research Center survey finds that people generally place a relatively low premium on a person’s birthplace. Only 13% of Australians, 21% of Canadians, 32% of Americans and a median of 33% of Europeans believe that it is very important for a person to be born in their country to be considered a true national. Cultural fit. It’s less important within borders now than ever. So why do we keep looking for it in the workplace?

Hiring managers and CEO’s too often look for a “cultural fit” over and above skills when they hire. Sure we all want to be able to have a beer together at the end of the day, and by hiring that “cultural fit,” we think we can — with less effort. But is that really true?

Or does cultural fit really mean we’re hiring based on whether that person is most like us? It certainly seems so. Fortune magazine recently titled an article, “How ‘Culture Fit’ Can Be a Shield for Hiring Discrimination.” I think most of us can relate. Perfectly qualified but we didn’t get the job because we didn’t go to the “right” school or maybe even have the “right” hobbies. Class, race, religion, gender — it’s all been used against us on a hiring decision at one time or another. Human nature? Yes. But used to find the best fit for a company? Not always.

McKinsey studies show that companies in the top quartile for gender, racial and ethnic diversity typically have above average financial returns. Likewise, companies in the bottom quartile in diversity are statistically less likely to achieve above-average returns. Diversity is also most likely to make companies more competitive, shifting market share toward more diverse companies over time.

If you want to beat other companies diversify your workforce.

Most companies bring diversity into their company by the most obvious means — moving the needle by hiring more women or looking for candidates who represent a minority race from the local community. But how often do they look completely outside their country for cultural diversity?

For the most forward thinking and successful companies in the world, hiring internationally is the norm. When hiring from within your city or country, you will most likely find like-minded thinking, even while improving diversity. I’d like to challenge you to think beyond borders.

New research finds that socially different group members do more than simply introduce new viewpoints or approaches. In the study, diverse groups outperformed more homogeneous groups not because of an influx of new ideas, but because diversity triggered more careful information processing that is absent in homogeneous groups. The mere presence of diversity in a group creates awkwardness, and the need to diffuse this tension leads to better group problem solving.

Simply put — adding a completely new or divergent idea to a homogenous group will result in a shake up that brings better outcomes.

So how should you hire?

Building a globally competitive company in a networked age means you’re competing for the best people in the world.

Think beyond borders. Break down barriers on all fronts. Adding the best person for your team might just mean getting out of your usual comfort zone. Right now, in order to build globally competitive teams, we need to bridge borders across the world.

Talent is mobile. Don’t limit your hiring to whoever happens to be available in your neighborhood. Expand your hiring campaigns globally and inspire the best people from around the world to join your team.

After all, variety is the spice of life.

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