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THE BEAM // Fall 2017


Cultural fit vs. cultural contribution

“I don’t think <candidate> will be a good fit with our culture,” said every hiring leader at one time or another.

Put any group of people together and a culture emerges. Every company has one and it seems logical to hire people who fit in, but unfortunately our sense of “fit” isn’t based in logic. Instead, perceptions of “similar versus different” are rooted at a deeply unconscious level. The brain is designed to process stimuli efficiently, by labelling and sorting like things together, creating shortcuts that save processing time later on. This is incredibly useful. For example, we don’t have to consciously process every traffic situation we encounter. However, when our brain applies shortcuts to processing human behavior it prevents us from really understanding individuals. We develop favorable biases towards people almost immediately based on perceptions of similarity. This tendency to favor people who are like ourselves is called affinity bias, and it greatly impacts – if not defines – our perception of cultural fit.

Why Fight it?

In the workplace, there are plenty of reasons to challenge our inherent preference for homogeny. Too much similarity leads to group-think, tunnel vision, stagnation… not exactly a recipe for innovation. Hiring for “fit” often leads to hiring people just like ourselves and ruling out the people who could actually bring in new thinking. The article below highlights companies that are intentionally shifting from the mindset of “cultural fit” to “cultural contribution.” The emphasis is on hiring people who can bring additive qualities to the team, versus more of the same. That one word – contribution – represents a seismic shift in thinking about Talent. Instead of placing a premium on well-known experiences (attainment of an Ivy league degree, for example), leaders are asking, “Who are we missing? What viewpoints aren’t being represented? Whose background will enhance our culture?” They’re challenging long-standing assumptions (to continue the example: is the candidate’s alma mater important? How important?) which in itself can be culture-altering.

LymanDoran has committed to shifting our lens from cultural fit to exploring aspects of cultural contribution with our clients. We’re challenging our own assumptions as a practice and as individuals. We’ve long been concerned about hiring based on a poorly defined sense of cultural fit – it’s too easy for unconscious bias to play a distorting role in decision-making. One way we work to mitigate this is by helping our clients define their culture in more concrete terms to include behaviors that reflect – or oppose – company values. Throughout the search process, we hold ourselves and our clients accountable for making decisions based on more than gut feeling or a vague sense of poor fit. We hope you’ll take a few minutes to read this article and reflect on what could enhance your culture.


Leaderships role in shaping team culture

Giving people a sense of meaning in their work is essential to creating a healthy organization. When employees experience meaningful work, the personal connection that is created causes them to feel a sense of ownership, which translates to increased employee engagement and commitment, and ultimately leads to better performance. Knowing the dramatic impact employee engagement has on an organization, the question becomes: What can companies do to help their employees experience meaningful work?

Many organizations struggle with this question because of the perceived complexity of generational differences, but a recent article published by The Harvard Business Review suggests that experiencing meaningful work has more to do with the leaders in the company than the employees.

How to Make Work More Meaningful for Your Team discusses the important role leaders play in helping employees understand why their jobs matter. Specifically, the article outlines four personality characteristics research suggests determine a leader’s ability to create a meaningful work environment for their team: curious and inquisitive; challenging and relentless; prioritizes values fit; and trusting.

In our work with executive leaders we have seen how each of these traits can make a dramatic impact on shaping the culture of a team. As a result, we would argue that the best thing a company can do to help their employees experience meaningful work is invest in leaders at all levels that embody these four characteristics.


Fostering innovation through non-industry talent

Disruptive technology has become a familiar concept in recent years with the rise of companies like Uber and Airbnb. As consumers, we’ve grown accustomed to technology transforming the products and services we use, and companies of all kinds are focused on fostering innovation with the ultimate goal of identifying the next revolutionary technology.

Often these breakthroughs have come from applying technology from one industry to a seemingly unrelated business. As leaders work to build cultures that will encourage creativity and innovative thinking, more and more are implementing a similar approach to hiring talent.

Traditionally, industry experience has been a requirement for many executive level positions.  However, as leaders work to build diverse teams in the name of innovation, many are actively targeting and recruiting talent from outside their own industries to positively “disrupt” their thinking and ultimately their businesses.

A recent Forbes article outlined a number of potential benefits to hiring someone without industry experience, specifically noting the positive impact of employees who can apply learning from one industry in a totally new environment. Much like disruptive technology, these leaders can inspire breakthrough ideas by adapting best practices from other businesses or simply asking tough questions.

At LymanDoran, we often encourage our clients to consider candidates from outside their own industries as a means of accessing the highest caliber of talent and fresh thinking. More and more of our clients are taking that advice and some have even gone so far as to mandate we only consider non-industry talent. Those seeking transformation or investing in innovation have seen the benefit of hiring someone who brings an unorthodox perspective. Likewise, candidates are more open to shifting industries, citing a desire to learn and apply a well-developed skillset in a new environment.

While the appetite for disruptive talent is increasing across industries, not every organization is ready for transformational change. Clearly articulating the short- and long-term objectives for the role and assessing organizational readiness for these disruptive leaders becomes an even more critical part of the recruiting process and will help ensure a successful hire.