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Hiring? Look for Culture-Adds, Not Culture-Fits

Originally written on Jan 5, 2021

Let me ask you a question:

What are your business’s “unfair advantages” over your competitors?

You might think about the intellectual property you’ve built up or acquired; your ability to source materials at a lower cost; a memorable brand identity; strong relationships with a loyal customer base. And these are all valid.

But, when I ask business owners this question, rarely do I hear the answer, “our team and culture.” 

Most of us don’t tend to think of our team and culture as competitive advantages.

The most visionary leaders know that they are. They know that investing in forging strong relationships between talented people is perhaps the greatest competitive edge you can have—and so they invest.

When you hire the best people you can find, the company benefits in some ways. But, when you don’t invest in strong relationships between them, you’re left with a team of star players who don’t play well together. This is where culture becomes so important to define and defend.

Company culture is first shaped by the dynamics of your leadership team.

Are you fast-paced or laid-back? Solemn or silly? Heads-down or collaborative? There are no “wrong” answers, and each of these traits is like a small drop of paint that, when blended together, create a unique color—your company culture.

As you begin hiring, you might be tempted to seek out people who “fit” your culture. While it’s valid—and extremely popular these days—to craft a well-defined company culture, I want to urge you to consider the following question:

Can hiring “culture fits” lead to a dangerously homogeneous team?

Taylor Nieman, cofounder and CEO of Toucan, argues that it does. In a recent interview on the Career Crashers Podcast, she introduced me to a new concept for building team culture: what she calls “culture add.” She told me:

If you try to get a “culture fit,” you’re gonna get a lot of the same people. How do we get additions, new opinions and different types of people to be part of Toucan and what we’re building? Every new person you add changes [culture]. In what positive manners do they bring extra value to everyone?

When we understand this fundamental reality, and embrace what it can do for our businesses, we build more diverse teams. As our teams become more diverse, we become more empathetic; we become more innovative.

And that, as you know, is a hell of a competitive advantage.

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