Why the 'cultural fit' doesn't fit

Evidence shows that companies that hire on or emphasize cultural fit struggle to innovate and change.

February 23, 2018 |
Perkins+Will’s Ideas + Buildings

In today’s global hunt for talent, company leaders (the smart ones, anyway) are making a crucial shift. It’s no longer about getting people who are a “cultural fit.” The right hire is one who makes a cultural addition. Facebook, for example, created a more inclusive hiring processby barring interviewers from using phrases related to “fitting” when providing feedback on candidates. They found that requiring interviewers to give more specific feedback compels them to address unconscious biases and keep inclusivity paramount.

The more you think about fitting in, the less sense it makes. Few people really want to be a part of a groupthink session, or to line up exactly with existing employees and company norms. Evidence shows that companies that hire on or emphasize cultural fit struggle to innovate and change. Finding people who fit culturally may be an easy way out, but the real reward is in finding and sustaining an office of people who add something special, even unique.


Concepts like “cultural add” or “cultural contribution” better reflect competitive companies’ goals. Those such as Facebook, Atlassian, and Goldman Sachs continue to reinvent recruitment practices, hiring employees whose only “fit” comes from shared values and who add that special something. The industry norms are no longer so applicable.

We as designers also play an increasingly prominent role in supporting cultural contributions, and we’re always happy to work with companies who share our objectives. One such company is Sun Life, which is rethinking the traditional approach to insurance and financial services. Its leaders wanted to move away from traditional, fit-based hiring norms and toward an environment based on celebrating its employees. Sun Life recognized the strength of “cultural add” in creating space in their new global home at One York Street in Toronto. Working with designers from our Toronto office, Sun Life pushed for a space that would empower employees with different backgrounds and working styles, allowing them control over how they share ideas, address risks, and make decisions. They also emphasized restoring boundaries to reduce distractions and noise while promoting productivity and willingness to engage (but only when ready) with others.



The result is the Sun Life’s transformative Ignite Studio. Beyond promoting brand identity, the vibrant new space encourages collaboration by fostering community. Employees can work in a variety of spaces: open or enclosed, collaborative or focused, formal or informal, depending on workstyles and the nature of their work. The firm’s technologies are displayed throughout the space, from the entry tech-display bar to television screens. The space endorses creativity, with an abundance of functional walls for writing and drawing. Almost every surface is meant for opportunities to create and foster innovation for Clients. All desks, including those in meeting rooms, are adjustable sit-stand desks. Even minor details—like the distance of a sit-stand desk from the writeable wall of a conference room—promote a more active, inclusive, and collaborative environment.

Innovation drives advancement but the push for innovation doesn’t always come easily. One of the biggest factors: a critical mass of energized and happy staff members, all united by a shared understanding of the company’s goals. Who wouldn’t want to add themselves to that company?



Perkins+Will’s Ideas + Buildings | Perkins+Will

Perkins+Will is a firm of remarkable people who are driven by discovery – through their relationships, research, and design. In the simplest sense, our ideas are the precursors for all of our design work. Ideas + Buildings, Perkins+Will’s blog, features emerging thought leadership from across the firm, inviting an even greater global dialog around learning, wellness, workplace, sustainability, and everything in between. Visit the blog at: http://blog.perkinswill.com.

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