Cultural Fit or "Someone Like Me"?

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I was speaking this week to a group of CEOs when I was asked the question, “what about affinity bias and cultural fit? If we want to recruit or promote people who match our cultural fit then isn’t it more likely that they will be like us? Doesn’t that make diversity redundant?”.

It was a brilliant question. Affinity Bias – our tendency to ‘like people who are like us’ impacts all facets of leadership. The important distinction here is to understand what ‘cultural fit’ means and whether we are in fact confusing it with affinity bias. If someone is a good cultural fit for your business then that is about them aligning to the values of your organisation and the behaviours that underpin this in action.

For example, if your company has a value of BOLDNESS and one of the underpinnings of that value is that you want your people to take calculated risks and to speak up and voice their opinions in meetings, then as a leader there are two things to consider when recruiting or promoting people.

The first is that you want to recruit and promote people who will embrace working in a culture that encourages those behaviours. This is what cultural fit is about.

The second consideration is whether as a leader, you are enabling your people to live-out these values in your organisation everyday. If you talk of boldness, yet shoot down every person that offers an opinion in a meeting, then there is a values conflict and your organisation values are just words without meaning.

So can diverse people be ‘bold’ (as per this example), or is that the domain of one ‘type’ of person? Boldness can show up in many ways, by people of all ages, backgrounds, genders and cultures. The key issue of diversity and mitigating affinity bias is to ask yourself some of the following questions:

  1. If I am honest with myself, am I recruiting this person because they are like me or that maybe they remind me of myself when I was younger?

  2. When I think about our organisation’s values, am I asking the right questions to ascertain a cultural fit? Or am I confusing personality with behaviours? For example, am I making assumptions that the right cultural fit for a company that values BOLDNESS, is someone extroverted to the exclusion of an introvert? How might different people demonstrate BOLDNESS to achieve the same outcomes?

  3. How am I living out our values as a leader? Am I showing up and leading in a way that calls out the behaviours that are contrary to what we believe is important  in our culture? Or am I just talking the talk without walking the walk?

Next time you consider cultural fit in the context of recruitment or promotion decisions, make sure you are asking questions that interrogate the values of your organisation. For example, if you want people who are willing to take risks, ask them about a time when they took a risk in their career. How did they go about this? What was the outcome? What about a time when they took a risk and it didn't go to plan. How did they manage that situation? 

As a leader, ask yourself – ‘am I expecting the person to live out our values, or am I going on a gut feel that if I am honest, is more about selecting someone who is just like me?’. It might just help differentiate when bias is taking over cultural fit.


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Guest Thursday, 04 June 2020