In the discovery process of Organizational Development projects, we ask clients to describe the organization’s culture. Most responses are about colleagues’ behaviors. “People here are nice” or “Tends to be cliquey” are typical responses. In almost every case, the initial response relates to cultural toxicity (which could be related to why clients hired us). When pushed to go deeper, they almost always struggle.
Psynet Group is a leader in assessing toxicity in organizations. We built an online psychometric assessment tool that leverages Dr. Dave Popple’s clinical experience with personality disorders, forensic experience in the Department of Corrections, and 17 years of working with corporations to identify people with toxic behaviors in the workplace. An employee’s toxicity universally impacts every culture type, so it is not usually part of the Culture Fit dialogue.
Is “Culture Add” More Relevant Today than Culture Fit?
Who doesn’t love adding a little hot fudge to their vanilla ice cream? Just as chocolate breathes life into plain vanilla ice cream, a diverse group of people ignites innovation and complexity in group problem-solving (this is not a new insight and is widely supported by research).
Culture Fit is misunderstood as homogeneity, not diversity, by many. This significant misunderstanding was revealed in 2021 by several bloggers who jumped on the “Cultural Add” bandwagon by criticizing Culture Fit. For example:
Beyond the front for discrimination, Culture Fit is based on the presumption that the best business is full of like-minded or similar people. In an imaginary scenario where an ad agency is full of 30 or 40-somethings who are all sporty and outgoing, the notion is that more sporty and outgoing 30 or 40-somethings will keep everything ticking along nicely. This is an outdated (and slightly confusing) assumption, with mountains of research opposing it.
- Down With Culture Fit! Long Live Culture Add! Vitamin Talent | Dec 2021
Fit or add, you say? Recruiters often run into a cultural fork in the road with a sign that reads, “Fit or add?” The dilemma: Do you hire candidates who fit into the established culture, or do you seek out applicants who add to it in meaningful ways that may challenge existing structures?
- Should recruiters search for “culture fit” or “culture add”? Morning Brew | Oct 2021
Hiring for cultural fit tends to favor the status quo in the company, whether that relates to race, gender, age, socioeconomic level, or even lacrosse abilities. That makes it harder for anyone who doesn’t ‘fit the mold’ to get into sectors where they are currently under-represented.
- What does being a ‘cultural fit’ actually mean? BBC Work Life | Oct 2021
Attacking Culture Fit to promote Culture Add may sound clever, but it creates a false choice, a choice that inhibits retention and undermines engagement. For example, a Psynet Group client attempted a “Cultural Add” in 2021 while ignoring the importance of Cultural Fit. The result created two disparate cultures that resulted in a “civil war.” One side resented those who worked mostly from home, played foosball and ping pong during breaks, and took “mental health” days. The other side felt undervalued and resented the unofficial expectations to sacrifice their work/life balance. The casualties included 42% employee resignation in 4 months.
Culture Add was supposed to be a great post-pandemic solution, but the misapplication of the concept and ignoring Culture Fit was a near disaster. It was not until they chose a culture and used Culture Fit as a hiring criterion that they got the desired results.
Clarifying the Difference
If Culture Add is like pouring hot fudge onto cold ice cream, Culture Fit is like going into a macaroon shop. Each cookie has a similar shape, and when you purchase a box, they all fit nicely into the slots. However, when tasted, the diversity is significant.
The differences between Culture Fit and Culture Add include at least three areas:
|Culture Add||Culture Fit|
|Different Skills||Similar Values|
|Different Perspectives||Similar Motivators|
|Different Experiences||Similar Activity Preferences|
Psybil®, Psynet Group’s psychometric platform, does not quantify experiences. However, it does measure Abstract Reasoning and four Critical Thinking Skills. Psybil® also measures perspectives through its Thinking Style assessment. We looked at data from 403 people who took our Psynet Group Leadership Battery to search for correlations. We found one minor correlation within Culture Add between Abstract Reasoning and Systemic Thinking (r= .23 ⍶ .02 N=403) and only a couple between our Culture Add Scales and our Culture Fit Scales.
- Systemic Thinking and Invention Culture (r= .42 ⍶ .01 N=403)
- Open-Minded and Agile Culture (r= .34 ⍶ .01 N=403)
None of the other four thinking styles correlated with any of the other six culture types or the 33 scales used to identify them.
This research means that we are measuring two different categories and that employers can add people to their organization who are a cultural fit AND bring a different perspective.
Before We Can “Add” to Culture Fit, We Need to Define It
Experts often have the same problem as the abovementioned employees. Either they cannot define a culture, or they base their definitions on intuition instead of science. The ability to define culture goes back to Dr. Edgar Schien’s research on corporate culture. He identified the difficulty in accurately naming and defining a corporate culture and the complex challenges in changing them.
At Psynet Group, we reviewed this and other research on cultures to learn whether or not it was possible to measure culture fit using Psybil®and found dimensions that have become well-established, including
- Innovation orientation
- Outcome orientation
- People orientation
- Team orientation
- Mission/goal orientation
- Attention to detail
- Employee involvement
- Process-oriented vs. results oriented
- Parochial vs. professional
- Open system vs. closed system
- Loose control vs. tight control
- Normative vs. pragmatic.
Dr. Popple consolidated the research on corporate culture and looked at Psybil data through this lens. This process occurred in two stages:
- We analyzed 50 scales measured by the Psybil® Leadership battery. This statistical analysis identified scales that tended to show up together. For example, the following six scales tend to be high among one cluster of people.
- Positive Personal Control (belief that actions lead to success)
- Negative Others (belief that others are to blame for failures)
- We looked at each cluster through the lens of current culture research. The attributes mentioned in step one describe a meritocracy culture. The analysis revealed seven additional clusters (eight), each aligned with a theoretical culture type.
Thirty-three of the 50 scales clustered in one or two of the culture types. The other 17 were dispersed more evenly and are not used in identifying culture types.
Eight Culture Types
A Hierarchical Culture celebrates level and seniority. Pay and benefits are linked to seniority, and pay bands are common. These companies do not rely on meritocracy but reward loyalty and years of service. It is a poor fit for people who prefer flat organizations where titles don’t matter.
This culture rewards productivity and contribution with minimal respect for seniority. It is highly competitive, and members know others’ successes and failures through formal or informal means. It is a poor fit for those who expect to be valued by an organization for effort or relationships.
A Humanistic Culture treats all voices equally, and decisions are often made by consensus or majority rule. Everyone is encouraged to speak up no matter their role, and leaders elicit improvement suggestions from every level. It is a poor fit for those who feel time-burdened by consensus and shared decision-making.
In this culture, members emphasize purpose and collaboration to create a sense of belonging. For those in the company, work feels comforting and welcoming. It is a poor fit for those who prefer clear boundaries between work and family or friends.
In these companies, the focus is on becoming elite. Members take pride in how difficult it is to be hired and feel pride in belonging. Individual differences are valued less than in other cultures, and outsiders may perceive members as arrogant. It is a poor fit for those who value humility or believe social status is overrated.
Agile Cultures are defined by rapid iteration and lack of structure. These organizations think of a new product or method, decide on a minimally viable product and start testing outcomes. They often generate high-stress levels by constantly changing their path or goals. It is a poor fit for those who prefer a more thorough plan and a predictable work environment.
Social Purpose Culture
This culture focuses on a purpose beyond the organization itself. They are fueled by a passion for a social goal or a transformational purpose that drives decision-making. It is a poor fit for those focused on revenue or who believe charity and work should be separate.
This culture focuses on creating or discovering artistic or engineering accomplishments. There is always a push to build the next great thing. It is a poor fit for those who believe every invention should be economically viable.
How Relevant is Culture Fit? Really!
Understanding Culture Fit and Culture Add is crucial for organizations seeking to build effective teams and foster a positive work environment. While the concept of Culture Fit has faced criticism, it remains relevant when defined and implemented properly. By combining Culture Fit with Culture Add, organizations can embrace diversity and different perspectives while ensuring alignment with core values and motivations.
Do you want to learn more about these culture types and how they are defined? Curious about how Culture Fit can complement your Culture Add staffing goals? Reach out to us at [email protected]. We’d love to chat with you about this topic and hear your experiences
This article was written by Dr. Dave Popple, Founder and Managing Director of Psynet Group, Inc. and the chief architect of the Psybil platform and assessments.