“Fit” and Diversity. How They Work Together!

“Fit” and Diversity. How They Work Together!

by Jeanne Knutzen | August 24, 2020

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If you’re hiring for “fit”,  make sure you consider your commitments to   DIVERSITY and INCLUSION.


The popular saying – “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. 

Unfortunately not all hiring managers know how to think about their culture in ways that links directly to performance and end up compromising their equally important commitments to diversity and inclusion.    Even well intended managers will hire candidates they “like” or candidates they believe will fit in socially with their teams, overlooking the performance relevant components of a “cultural fit” that actually matters to the team’s success.

Hiring for “cultural fit” can actually diversify the mix of employees on your team (in terms of their race, gender, age, etc. if you take the time to define those elements of culture directly linked to the team’s performance.  

Soooo….what is culture?  What is a “cultural fit”?

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 of “what is”, your culture can be evaluated based on what behaviors get noticed and rewarded and what behaviors get ignored or punished.   If the behaviors  that get noticed (in good or bad ways) are independent of an individuals race, gender, age, sexual preference, etc., real diversity and inclusion thrives.

How a company finds, hires, recognizes and promotes its employees is one of defining elements of a company’s culture, reflecting their real commitments to diversity and inclusion.   

For many reasons, leaders will often describe their culture in aspirational terms – using words that describe important  values but values that are not actually reflected in how the organization behaves.  Diversity and inclusion can easily become one of those aspirational values that are reduced to “in word” only.

A real commitment to diversity and inclusion can also get sidetracked if a leader pays attention to behaviors they think are about “fit” but in reality are unrelated to the team’s performance.  I’ve seen even the most well intended managers assessing “fit” based on who their teammembers have lunch with, rather than noticing how they interact in a team problem solving setting.

My point?  Even well intended managers don’t quite know what components of “cultural fit” are actually related to the team’s performance, don’t take the time to challenge the disconnects between aspiration and reality, and end up compromising what they claim to be important commitments. 

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.  They are not likely to measure “fit” based on who is having lunch with who, but will notice “fit” based on how an employee interacts with the team, how they contribute to the final work product, etc.  how they “fit in” with the cultural norms that are all about how works gets done.  When our recruiting team describes a company’s culture to a prospective candidate we talk about those components of a culture that make a difference to what we have uncovered to be the employee’s basic approach to their work, their unique strengths and motivators – iow, how they will “fit” the behavioral definitions of culture that are directly related to the team’s performance. Race, color, age, sex and other diversity relevant issues are not part of that conversation – nor should they be.

What do we know about how different companies do 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 they are quick to notice disconnects.

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

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 consistently hire top performers.

I remember back to the early days of Microsoft, where job candidates would describe an exceptionally grueling hiring process which appeared to be focused on a candidate’s mental acuity, 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 discipline was undisputable.

What we believe 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.

Questions You Can Ask to Uncover 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.   

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