For 20 years, HR organizations and aviation recruiters (like API) have been suggesting that companies hire for “cultural fit.” And now—as we reexamine the implications of our words—it’s the perfect time to make a recommended change. And that is to hire for what’s now called a “cultural add” instead of a “cultural fit.”
Workplace ‘Culture’ Defined
Before we get much further, let’s take a minute to clarify what we mean by “culture.” In this context, we’re talking about the “feel” of an organization—its climate. It’s that naturally occurring dynamic that evolves within flight departments over time. In this case, “cultural fit” is often the process we engage in a search for talent.
A “cultural fit” suggests that we hire people with personalities that match up well with our company culture. But what’s happened is that we’ve fallen into a kind of trap. Many of us in hiring positions—especially those who use long-standing hiring practices—have relied on the colloquial “beer test.” That is, when making a difficult choice between two candidates, we choose the person we’d enjoy having a beer with. In other words, someone we feel compatible with. And “compatibility” with us isn’t always a good gauge for hiring.
The ‘Make-No-Waves’ Hire
Something we frequently hear from a hiring manager is, “We want to find someone who fits in and won’t upset the apple cart.” This is the exact sort of “cultural fit” language and motivation that we need to be more conscious of in terms of its implications. Remember, just because it might happen to be the longstanding way of doing business doesn’t mean that it has to remain so.
The ‘Natural Preferences’ Hire
Now, if your flight department has a professional culture that’s categorized as bureaucratic, it likely requires ancillary duties. Therefore, you’ll want to hire someone who naturally takes to those responsibilities. There’s no sense hiring a pilot who prefers to “show up and fly” when his/her natural preferences are in direct contrast to your culture.
The ‘Go-with-the-Flow’ Hire
Another example might be a professional culture that is steeped in creativity, but with a somewhat laissez-faire attitude toward rules. In this case, it would be against the grain to hire someone who enjoys structure, routine and predictability.
This distinction between “cultures” is a very important one. When we’re considering cultural fit, we have to ask ourselves honestly, which culture are we referring to? In this context, we’re talking about that unspoken culture. It’s the personality-based culture—the one that can implicitly tell us to hire those who look and sound like us.
The counter-measure to this “trap” of sorts is to instead use a “culture add” approach to hiring. This principle has a lot of labels. Some refer to it as “culture enhancement,” and others as “cultural contribution” or “culture complement.”
Call it what you will, but the implications are the same.
Shoot for ‘Culture Add’—Not ‘Fit’
With “cultural add,” rather than judging which candidate will best fit in to the prevailing atmosphere, we consider what each potential employee is capable of. This is often from the standpoint of diversification.
How can they add to your operation and help achieve your long-range vision? It may be about their ability to improvise new approaches. Maybe he will help challenge the status quo. Or she will reshape your flight department for the future—and for the better.
This approach challenges the “same-old, same-old” recruiting and hiring mentality. If you don’t want more of the same, it’s time to seek out “cultural adds.” Those who offer unique perspectives or skill sets that will enhance your current culture. And perhaps alter it in some meaningful and progressive ways.
Open Yourself to Change
So what can you do? A lot, actually.
A recent Chart Hop article offers several tips for hiring for a cultural add. And I’ve included a few suggestions of my own.
Know the vision
Take stock of where your company wants to go, and what it wants to become. If you understand the big picture, you can see how a cultural add can help you achieve your goals.
Know what ‘potential’ means
Like other hiring criteria, potential must be measured fairly across all candidates. That means giving all candidates the same opportunity. Gauge how they can communicate their potential by using consistent questioning and interview assessments.
Ask open-ended questions
When interviewing, open the door to discuss the candidates’ less conventional approach to job performance. And, of course, open your mind to non-traditional candidates that otherwise might not have been given a shot at the job.
You can learn a lot about a candidate’s passions and interests by paying attention and really listening to what they have to say, and how they say it. What words do they choose when talking about their life and their past work experience?
Look for curiosity
Be on the lookout for candidates who ask thoughtful questions. What do they know about the role, the company and the leadership team? Be wary of candidates who don’t ask any questions. Or those who rely on rote, run-of-the-mill questions they feel obligated to ask.
Don’t Fall into a Hiring Trap
Hiring for a personality type can help make for an extremely successful operation. But the challenge arises over time when we unintentionally (and almost exclusively) hire people who look and act like us.
The result can be an inadvertent hiring bias that creates a far too homogeneous workforce. And that level of workplace uniformity can hinder a team’s dynamism and innovation. What’s more, it also threatens the benefits that hiring for diversity offers. As in better decision-making, improved employee engagement and better financial performance.
The message here is to take a good look at and assess your recruiting and hiring habits. Are you falling into the “cultural fit” trap and inadvertently obstructing your company’s potential? If so, try and retool your policies and mindset to establish a “cultural add” focus. Once you take a more broad-minded approach to hiring, the results—for your company and for you—can be liberating.
If you liked this post, you may enjoy Sheryl Barden’s article for Aviation International News: Diversity Hire vs ‘Best Candidate’ Status Quo