two men are mirroring each other at a deskMost dating sites and relationship psychologists will tell you that people have a natural tendency to romance or make friends with people who are similar to themselves in terms of outlook or approach. While this may work well in relationships, this process of bonding with people who are similar to ourselves has accidentally spilled over into the hiring process – without much justification. We’ve just assumed that what’s good for marriages and relationships is good for employment, which is on the face of it an odd assumption – as they are materially different things.

Take this study from the Kellogg School of Management  on modern professional services firms, which shows that employers were looking to hire people who were not just competent but who were culturally similar to themselves in relation to leisure pursuits, experience and self-presentation style. This may be an isolated study, but don’t let this detract; cultural fit hiring is all the rage and is practiced by many of the world’s leading organizations, both consciously in terms of cultural fit hiring strategy and more informally in terms of unconscious bias where people unknowingly favor candidates similar to themselves.

Few question the cultural fit paradigm, although there is a rising tide of dissenters to cultural fit hiring based around it leading to homogeneous teams, lacking diversity in nature and outlook and lacking the flexibility, innovation and scope to react to a diverse and dynamic environment. However, the supposed team harmony and cohesion that comes with cultural fit hiring seems to be trumping the potential advantages that an anti-cultural fit, diverse hiring policy brings. As a result, the tide of dissent against cultural fit hiring is lapping quietly against the shore, rather than crashing into the sea wall.

But, there is another potential and lesser known detractor theory that calls cultural fit hiring into question, and this is the (not uncontested) theory of Group Think put forward by Irving Janis, a research psychologist from Yale.  Group Think happens when a homogeneous and very cohesive group becomes so concerned with conforming to its code that it overlooks all options and alternatives and doesn’t seek expert advice, leading the group to make faulty decisions when compared to decisions that could have been reached by adopting a fair, open and rational decision making process.

The perils  of GroupThink were also illustrated in a recent CBSNews article where it was postulated that teams engaged in GroupThink, “are more likely to maintain the status quo and implement or stick with ill-conceived strategies,” which is of course bad for business. They cited a study, Set up for a Fall: The Insidious Effects of Flattery and Opinion Conformity toward Corporate Leaders.

So, while the case is far from conclusive, there is enough evidence in my mind to sew at least a few seeds of doubt in the supremacy of cultural fit hiring and the mantra of constantly hiring clones of ourselves. It seems that if we do totally invest in a cultural fit hiring policy of virtual clones/mirror images, we risk creating homogeneous teams susceptible to Group Think and a faulty decision making process.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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in Organizational Culture]