Creating the right company culture is critical when building a company that your employees, customers and shareholders love. By identifying and empowering your organization's own unique attributes and quirks -- and welcoming a diversity of people from all sorts of backgrounds-- you create a powerful message that distinguishes you from the competition.

The right culture tied to the right mission -- supported by the right inclusive team -- can create an unstoppable force in building the kind of company you want. The facts back this up as well. According to Deloitte's 2017 Human Capital Trends Report, inclusive companies earn 30% more revenue per employee than their more exclusive counterparts.

As with anything, however,, a dark side of culture exists. What starts as a way for employers to distinguish their organizations and create a force for good, often ends up being abused and used as an excuse to screen out, and even fire, employees who are not good "cultural fits." Rather than providing a unique group for new hires to join, the new "company culture" provides an unquestionable excuse to keep "undesirables" out of the company and bring in a team of people who are all look, think or work the same. The worst part of this workforce reality is that the assessment of someone being "undesirable" comes from bias of excuses and discomfort versus a true assessment of performance or capability, creating a homogenous team or company. In other words, what begins as an engaging way to include diverse groups under a unique corporate umbrella now does the exact opposite: it excludes them.

Consider the way conversations of "fit" usually play out:

"Why did that great candidate get screened out?"

"Wasn't a good cultural fit."

"Oh. Okay."

Notice a problem?

The term as it now exists is so fluid, the notion of a "poor cultural fit" is indisputable. Think about it like this: when you toss a rock into a lake, you don't harm the lake; the water just moves to accommodate the rock.Though the analogy is somewhat whimsical, it works: fluid definitions provide the perfect cover for poor talent decisions.

When you are building or leading a team and hear someone say a candidate or employee is not a "culture fit"-- or are tempted to do it yourself -- I've found it effective to probe the following key areas to figure make sure the argument is real:

  • Their name. Asian-looking names receive 20% fewer callbacks, regardless of other qualifications. African American names experience even fewer callbacks. A candidate my company once worked with named "Spechelle Day" was passed over a dozen times before being screened in for skills versus screened out.
  • Their GPA. It's no secret that candidates with higher GPAs receive more job offers. But its correlation to performance in the workplace is flimsy at best. Why are you asking in an interview process and why does it matter?
  • Their college or career pedigree. Same as GPA, and equally irrelevant to workplace performance.
  • Their age. Older candidates might be seen as inflexible and technologically primitive, while young candidates might be seen as risk-taking and inexperienced. Make managers uncomfortable and hire someone from a different generation than them.
  • Their religious or political persuasion. In some places, being a conservative is the name of the game. In other places, if you are a conservative, you are excluded; it goes both ways.

I've talked about unconscious bias before, and how the natural tendency to gravitate toward people similar to us can play out in hiring decisions. With the way company culture is exploited currently, it becomes a crutch that supports our own implicit bias.

Are there times that "not a culture fit" is real? Of course, but of the candidates screened out for "poor fit" and employees fired for the same reason, I would estimate that only 10% actually fail to fit in the company's culture. If your company culture is so exclusive that more than 10% don't "fit," there is a problem with your company, not the candidate.

To succeed in the digital age and to build the company you truly want to build, organizations need to be able to accommodate as many diverse viewpoints and skillsets as possible. Anytime someone comes to you and say "this person isn't a culture fit," don't just buy in and agree;probe, test and seek to determine what the real truth is about the candidate or employee and make that an expectation inside of your team or company. In some cases the person making the assessment may in fact be the one who isn't a culture fit.