3 tips to help “culture adds” acclimate and make a difference

by | Apr 10, 2021 | Blog | 0 comments

As the days grow longer and warmer this spring, the trees, bushes and flowers are responding with healthy new growth that fills the air with wonderful sights and smells.

Amid all of this beautiful new growth outdoors, how well are your latest “culture adds” taking root inside your organization?

Hopefully, just enough to make things stimulating and consequential for them, your organization, and everyone else involved. But not so much that the transformational nature of these “culture adds” diminishes.

Individuals who embrace the label “culture adds” see their role as challenging the status quo. They tend to focus on the future with innovations and continuous improvement. They want to stretch themselves as well as their teams and the organization. They may even lean into chaos and conflict.

Compared with “culture fits” who naturally have strong roots in an organization, “culture adds” are from a different rootstock. They have different life and work experiences from each other as well as from other employees. “Culture adds” also may be diverse in demographics, thinking style, and maybe skill set too. They also can be boomerang employees who left the organization for more experiences and have returned reenergized and empowered.

By contrast, “culture fits” are more homogeneous. They share similar styles, backgrounds and experiences. They can hit the ground running and may already know a number of their colleagues, especially if they came into your organization as employee referrals. If you want a safe hire or prudent addition to a team, go for the “culture fit” who fits your organization’s people mold.

Yet, be aware of the downside to “culture fits,” especially for organizations that are trying to adapt, evolve, and innovate. When everyone looks, sounds and acts in a similar way, groupthink prevails. There’s limited diversity of thought, experiences or new ideas and fresh air to shake things up and refresh services and products. And if the organization needs to act quickly to respond to changing market requests, it will find itself stuck and falling behind.

Research shows that “culture fit” hires are especially helpful for startups. In fact, startups that hire for culture fit over skills can increase their chances for survival.

However, for larger companies, too many “culture fits” can be a disadvantage. Other research shows that publicly held companies that hire for “culture fits” alone have the slowest growth rates, especially compared with companies that have a more diverse workforce. This has been one of Adam Grant’s research areas.

Over the past six months, I’ve been working with an established organization that’s been intentionally recruiting as well as promoting more “culture adds.” By increasing its diversity, the organization believes it will be better prepared to grow its footprint, introduce new products and services, and increase its innovation.

Even though by definition, “culture adds” are outsiders, explorers and disrupters, they also are human beings who want to be seen, heard and connected. And just like other complex living organisms, “culture adds” benefit more from nurturing than benign neglect.

So to ensure the culture adds can get acclimated and feel like they’re a productive citizen of the organization, we’ve been onboarding the new hires more intentionally, including providing customized coaching. The type of consideration, care, and commitment they need depends on the individual, the situation, and any number of other environmental factors.

Three of my learnings so far are:

  • Be inclusive. Everyone who works for the organization needs to be considered a member of the “in-group” and respected for their humanity. Within this organizational wide in-group, there are subgroups. However, these are departments, functions and teams, which help get work done. Individuals should not divide themselves into the “culture adds” and “culture fits” camps – which is harder than I anticipated because many “culture adds” seem to be proud of their label and role. Ongoing though, it’s important that individuals feel a sense of belonging as well as safety in the organization. To reinforce this, the leaders are linking actions and decisions to the organization’s purpose and values and explaining that these serve as touchstones for everyone.
  • Watch out for mindset differences. Since many “culture adds” have a sense of adventure and a love of learning, they tend to have a growth mindset. Many long-service employees can lean toward a fixed mindset, expressing concerns about preserving the organization’s traditions, customs and current ways of working, and feeling the most threatened about upcoming changes. In recognition of this, we’ve asked the “culture adds,” especially those in leadership roles, to reach out to other employees and listen and engage with them, especially around their views of the organization.
  • Make time for personal stories. We’re encouraging everyone to tell their personal stories, including how they got to the organization, what they value, what they enjoy, their interests outside of work, their family, their hopes and dreams, and anything else they think is relevant and they want to share. These stories are helping build understanding, trust, and respect among all colleagues.

Along the way, I’m sure we’ll have more learnings as well as probably bolster or adjust these three. Meanwhile, being intentional and deliberate is making a difference. And the payoff is well worth the work.

How are you paying attention to your “culture adds” to ensure they grow and flourish and make a difference to your organization?


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