Do you recruit for ‘cultural fit’? Or is there a better way? Brian Clohessy unpacks the issues following an impromptu conversation at one of Parlour’s Light at the End of the Tunnel sessions.

Brian Clohessy, Margaret Devlin & Naomi Stead discuss the concept of ‘cultural add’.

In late 2019 I attended an Unconscious Bias Training session organised by the (NSW AIA) HR Large Practice Group and run by Diversity Partners. The course outlined the importance of diversity of approach for innovation and problem solving. It talked to inherent and acquired diversity, and how well-managed diverse teams out-performed well-managed homogenous teams.

While there were plenty of takeaways from the day, the standout for me was the notion of moving away from ‘cultural fit’ to ‘cultural add’ when recruiting. You can do this by emphasising a culture add or values alignment, rather than a culture fit. It involves valuing diverse thinking rather than recruiting someone who will fit into existing patterns or ways of thinking.

Prior to this training, we looked at candidates with a lens of whether they would be a ‘good fit’ for BVN. You do this by trying to see familiar experience, skills, characteristics and background to ascertain if it aligns with the BVN way or your view of the BVN way!

The unconscious bias training prompted a reform of how we interview candidates, which is now underpinned by a framework that gives candidates some time to demonstrate their strengths by consistently using competency-based questions.

If you look for it, cognitive diversity is all around — but people like to fit in, so they are cautious about sticking their necks out. A homogenous culture stifles the natural cognitive diversity in groups through the pressure to conform.

We need a culture to encourage people to utilise their different modes of thinking. We talk a lot about being authentic (being yourself) but now recognise the importance of our leadership in enabling others to be themselves – empowering them to demonstrate their cultural add.

We should be retaining and recruiting people who showcase the potential to constantly question established ways of doing things.

We have a specific question for the interview panel on “what would be the cultural add of this candidate?”. This encourages us to avoid the generic observations, “I like or dislike that candidate” and gets them to reflect on a candidate’s competency, skill and experience. It forces us to challenge our choices – through self-awareness of our assumptions, stereotypes and bias – and requires us to have diverse interview panels.

We are looking to move beyond diversity to inclusion and diversity. For us, the attitude of cultural add puts a focus on the value of inclusion, in addition to diversity.


Brian Clohessy is an architect and Head of People and Character at BVN, leading the development of the practice’s vision, strategy and structure for all things people-related. Prior to taking up this role, he was BVN Sydney Studio Director.