“Fit” and Diversity. How They Work Together!

“Fit” and Diversity. How They Work Together!

by Jeanne Knutzen | August 24, 2020

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Hiring for “FIT ” and Commitments to  DIVERSITY Go Hand in Hand!


The popular phrase, “culture eats strategy” – has generated wide spread emphasis on hiring employees who not only have the skills and experience to do the work, but are the “right fit” with an organization’s culture.  I’m a big fan of this concept and blog on this topic often. 

That said, in the real world what we uncover is that not all hiring managers have taken the time to think objectively about their culture in ways that allows it to be describe accurately to prospective candidates or to match up a candidate’s preferred work style with the team’s work style (or culture).  Unfortunately this shortcoming can end up not only with some mismatches between the team’s and an employee’s preferred work styles, but also puts the team in a position to compromise its important commitments to diversity.     What ends up is hiring based on who the manager or the team “likes” as opposed to focusing in on the performance relevant components of “culture fit” that actually matters to the team’s success.  When you hire based on “like” you subject yourself to all the “just like me” biases that keeps a team monolithic  terms of its hiring outcomes.

Hiring for “cultural fit” can diversify the mix of employees on your team (in terms of their race, gender, age, etc.) provided the team and its leadership takes the time to define those elements of culture that are actually linked to the team’s preferred style of working together, and the prospective employee’s job satisfiers.   

Soooo….what is culture any way?

If  by “culture”we mean how people inside an organization typically behave,  your team’s culture should be fairly simple to observe and describe.  Using behavioral definitions, a team’s or company culture can be described in many ways including how team members communicate with one another,  how problems get solved, what behaviors get noticed, recognized and rewarded and what behaviors get ignored, even punished.

We’ve found that many leaders will describe their “culture” in aspirational terms – using words that describe important values but values that are not actually reflected in how the organization or the team behaves.  When this happens the team’s commitment to diversity can easily become one of those aspirational values that are reduced to “in word” only. For example, I’ve seen even the most well intended managers assessing “cultural fit” by asking team members to have lunch with a prospective team member, which isn’t always a good reflection of how they’ll behave on the job.  These same managers will ask a team member “if they liked” a candidate opening up the hiring process to a level of subjectivity that doesn’t always play out in the best hiring decision.

Employees, on the other hand, tend to describe their team’s culture in ways that are much closer to the “truth” – what they  actually experience in the work environment, not just what gets talked about in aspirational ways.  Employees are actually less likely to embellish their culture and will describe “how work gets done around here” in more realistic ways – warts and all.

What do we know about how different companies or teams create culture?

1.  We’ve experienced companies who are very good at “walking their talk”……..actually behaving in a day to day basis in the ways they say the do –  while others have gotten very good at living with their own disconnects.

We know that most job candidates prefer  the former.  We also know that if a team’s culture has not been described accurately, they are quick to notice the disconnects.

2.  We’ve seen companies define the behavioral elements of their culture so narrowly that they have inadvertently excluded employees of a particular age, background or perspective – ultimately  compromising their commitments to diversity.

As example, if a team hires only people who are verbally outgoing, they may be overlooking job candidates of a certain age, sex or ethnicity where verbal expression isn’t the norm – not good.  Is there a reason why its been so difficult for employees over 45-50 to get hired by tech companies?

3.  When it comes to HIRING for “fit”  there are companies who have been able to turn their hiring process into a very important strategic advantage – they carefully describe their aspirational culture, and consistently hire people who are really good “fits” with that culture.

I remember back to the early days of Microsoft, where job candidates would describe an exceptionally grueling hiring process which from the outside appeared to be geared to uncovering a candidate’s mental acuity, stamina, intellectual creativity, and an aptitude for thinking outside the box.    Their HR team at the time had carefully thought thru the performance based components of  their culture and carefully defined a hiring process that would hire candidates that “fit”.  The results of this type of hiring process and the discipline to which it was executed, spoke for themselves.

What is most important about hiring for “cultural fit”? 

Two things….

  1. Defining “culture” and making “fit” a part of your hiring process  requires a rigorous focus on the way you want your company to perform, how you want the employees on your team to work together.    It takes a strong vision to make a performance based culture intentional;  it takes careful planning to craft a hiring process that supports that vision.  We have observed that this is the type of work that will fuel both diversity and inclusion, if you do it well.
  2. The most important homework employers can do if they want to hire for “fit” without compromising their equally important commitments to diversity and inclusion is to get clear on the performance relevant components of their culture.

How to Describe the Performance Relevant Components of Your Culture

What is the MISSION of your team – its purpose?  its goals?   What competencies are most important to helping your team be successful?  

Teams that have a “strong, well defined” culture are typically made up of individuals who have a clear understanding of the role they play in achieving the team’s mission;  they hold themselves accountable for getting the results needed while also playing to “behavioral” expectations that are more about how the work gets done – who talks to who about what, who makes decisions, etc.   These are teams who can  pursue their goals while easily assimilating the differences in age, race, color, and personality that actually accelerates their success.

If you’re creating culture, the first step is to get clear on what the team does.  Why it exists.  What behaviors (not looks, beliefs, or personal social preferences ) are most linked to the high levels of performance you expect.       

How is “good behavior” defined by team members?  the team’s leadership?    

Apart from purpose, most companies or teams have formal and informal codes of conduct that guides  team member behaviors – how they interact with each other and with people outside their team.  At PACE, for example, we make a big deal about speaking with each other authentically, avoiding anything that looks like going along to get along.  We also preach the value of learning from each other, staying open and curious about the diversity of ideas and perspectives which help us better understand what’s real.

This strong commitment to how we address issues with one another allows us to hire people without consideration of their race, their sex, their ethnicity, or social preferences…focused instead on their ability to “speak up” when they see opportunities to improve, their willingness to show respect for the wide range of perspectives and expertise our team brings to the table, etc.  These are our  “cultural” norms that drive who we hire.  Employees who don’t embrace these behavioral norms and can’t be taught to do so, are likely to have challenges getting to the performance levels we need from each employee.

What behaviors are valued most highly in your work environment?   What traits, skills or personality styles are most important for your company or team to be successful at what they do?   What behaviors tend to get recognized and rewarded?      

How do team members work together? How does the team define “teamwork’?  

The business world is by its very nature competitive and yet “teamwork” is one of the most common components of any recruiting profile – make sure they will  “get along” in a team environment.   But what does that mean behaviorally?

In some work environments employees are required to gain advantage over another team member in order to get ahead. In others, a teammember must know how to work collaboratively or they will lose their place on the team.  Some teams solve problems together; others require individuals to solve problems on their own.  Some teams meet with each other daily; others will go weeks without a meeting.

Ironically, we find many hiring managers quick to talk about how important “teamwork” is to their work environment, but not always taking the  time to describe what that means behaviorally.

How do people work together or solve problems at your company, and on your team?  When and how are people expected to work collaboratively?   When are team members expected to work independently? 

How do decisions get made?    

The way in which a team, or its leaders, make decisions has a big impact on the team’s “culture”.   Do decisions tend to get bumped upwards in a hierarchical fashion, or are individual team members encouraged to make decisions on their own?  What information or analysis is used to make or rationalize decisions?  Is your culture best described as analytical or intuitive?  Do you organize hierarchically or in a matrix format with lots of cross functionality?  And, what happens when someone makes the wrong decision?  How are mistakes dealt with?

Given how decisions are made on your team – what decision making experience should you be looking for in a prospective employee?       

How does your team operate in the face of adversity?  How do teammembers tend to respond when faced with a challenge?  

When organizations face change or unexpected challenges, the culture often changes to reveal itself differently compared to when things are “going well”.  For some teams, the fear of failure or extended periods of uncertainty, will trump its focus on people.  For others, adversity sharpens the team’s focus on people, and mobilizes it to make sure each individual excels.

Is your culture changing in response to things going on outside its control?  What pressures will your team face in the near future that might cause a shift in culture?      

How do team members communicate with one another?  How do they communicate with leadership?  

Communication is an overarching set of processes that in total, reveals a lot about a team’s  culture – What information is shared and how?  How is feedback delivered and received?  Who talks to whom about what?  Is information open and available for everyone to review, or are some pieces of information held close to the chest?  How does the team reach outside of themselves for information or ideas?

How would you describe your team’s typical methods of communicating?  How does your team share ideas?  How do they give or receive feedback?  When hiring for the “right fit” what “communication styles”  will work best with  your team?  

How does the team or its employees get recognized for their achievements?   

The way a team, or its team members, earn recognition for a job well done plays a significant role in defining culture. If standards are high and recognition scarce, the culture of the team will not be attractive to employees who need frequent sources of recognition or reward.

What kind of programs are in place to reward the team or its team members for exceptional efforts and/or Results?  Do team members have to compete with each other for rewards, or does everyone get rewarded when the team does well?


PACE Staffing Network is one of the Puget Sound’s premier staffing /recruiting agencies and has been helping Northwest employers find and hire employees based on the “right fit” for over 40 years.

A 4 time winner of the coveted “Best in Staffing” designation , PACE is ranked in the top 2% of staffing agencies nationwide based on annual surveys of customer satisfaction.

PACE services include temporary and contract staffing, temp to hire auditions, direct hire professional recruiting services, Employer of Record (payroll) services, and a large menu of candidate assessment services our clients can purchase a la carte.

To learn more about how partnering with PACE will make a difference to how you find and hire employees,  contact us at 425-637-3312 or e mail our Partner Solutions  team  at partnerservices@pacestaffing.com.

Need help with your next hiring project?   To get come complimentary advice or learn more about how we can help check us out   here.   [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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One thought on ““Fit” and Diversity. How They Work Together!”

3 years ago wht the hell

Kate Keaney

This is an interesting and thought-provoking read. You’ve made some great suggestions and points to consider as an organisation in terms of performance related components.

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