Why recruiting for ‘fit’ might be harming your competitiveness ?
I recently came across an article suggesting Facebook had made little progress in improving racial or gender diversity with the excuse being that there are too few women and minorities entering the tech industry. The evidence suggests otherwise and I started wondering how the issue of ‘fit’ might impact on organisation’s ability to take advantage of diversity and drive performance.
The idea of recruiting for cultural fit seems to be a common one in current thinking. We want people with not only skills and knowledge, but people you will ‘fit the team’ or ‘fit the culture’. But what do we mean by this and what might the risks be?
By recruiting with the idea of ‘fit’ in mind we may be limiting the potential of the team or organisation to overcome future challenges. This could play out in 3 ways:
- Dangers of groupthink
- Creating average teams
- Outside-in thinking.
Let’s explore this a little
The dangers of groupthink.
James Surowiecki argues in his book “The Wisdom of Crowds” suggested decisions made through the aggregation of information from groups are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group. However there are some criteria needed to ensure crowds are ‘wise’ and to avoid group think.
These criteria are:
- Diversity of opinion – each person having private information
- Independence – people opinions aren’t determined by opinions of those around them
- Decentralisation – people are able to specialise and draw on local knowledge
- Aggregation – a mechanism, for turning private judgments into a collective discussion.
Let’s compare this to the idea of fit. By recruiting for people who ‘fit’ we may well be recruiting for people who think, act and feel like us. This is natural in many respects as we generally like to be around people who we feel are ‘like us’ or ‘understand us’, that easy feeling of rapport and good relationships.
However recruiting people who ‘fit’ – think, act and feel like us – may well limit the diversity of opinions in the group and the level of independence people feel in expressing views that might challenge the views of those around us.
There is a comfort factor in this for a leader or manager. It probably easier to manage people who are like us; they will act in ways we understand or can predict.
Having people in or teams that might be considered disruptive or outspoken is going to demand more of our attention that perhaps we are willing to give.
Which leads on to the next point.
Creating average teams
There is plenty of evidence that shows that diverse teams have an impact on performance. The simple argument is usually that diversity improves performance; think Belbin or the various other Team profiling tools.
Whilst we probably know we need people with different skills and traits how often to we really recruit for this?
The challenge comes back to the leader. A team with a good ‘fit’ may well be performing well and so the temptation to recruit someone ‘who fits’ is likely to be high. Recruiting for diversity may upset the current level of performance and this might not be a risk the leader wants to make.
Let’s look at the impact of diversity in a little more detail. The evidence shows that what we might call homogenous teams will perform to a certain level. Diversity does impact on this performance but potentially in two ways.
One outcome is a lower overall performance. This is caused when the diversity in the group is poorly managed. When there is a lack of inclusivity or valuing what each diverse member of the team can bring.
Diversity in it own right will not drive performance unless the team and the leader are also able to be inclusive and explore the benefits of the diverse team.
This then comes back to the leader and whether they have the ability, aptitude and attitude to be inclusive and create a high-performing culture.
The final part of recruiting for ‘fit’ is the definition of ‘fit’ is usually based on the culture we have now.
This culture will have been built on past successes, and needs to be acknowledged, however ‘past performance is no guarantee of future success’.
By looking at the culture we have and what is needed to ‘fit’ into it, we may be limiting our thinking to the past and present and therefore the internal world of the organisation.
In a world which is changing at an ever-increasing rate we have to develop a balance between outside-in thinking and inside-out thinking. Have one eye on noticing what has brought us success (and celebrating that) and the other eye on what is happening outside and thinking how does our culture need to change to stay competitive?
I recently came across the idea of the ‘law of requisite diversity’ devised by Peter Hawkins. It suggests a team should have the same level of diversity as the stakeholder group it is trying to service. This means having a clear understanding of the diversity of our internal and external stakeholders and actively managing our team’s culture not simply maintaining it.
This means rather than recruiting for the ‘fit we have’ we need to be more externally focussed and recruit for ‘the fit we need’.