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Why Microsoft says it’s time to ditch cultural fit in favour of a new way of hiring

Source: Getty.

One of the key ways that employers discern a diamond in the rough is by asking: “will this person be a good cultural fit?”

Once, it was the best way to determine whether or not staff would work effectively as a team, with the overall aim of increasing retention. It was also meant to be prove how productive a new employee would be in a particular company.

But it became a way of essentially asking – are you one of us?

At the recent Microsoft Now conference in Sydney, Microsoft’s head of global talent acquisition Chuck Edward said that Microsoft doesn’t want to hire for a cultural fit any more.

“Microsoft can’t rely on its own insular way of doing things,” said Edward. “This is the trap you fall into when you’ve had a successful history.”

Edward is doing this through changing the entire hiring process across Microsoft to more diverse hiring practices.

“[It’s] not that [staff] need to fit our culture, but instead they’re adding to our culture,” said Edward.

One of the problems with hiring for cultural fit is that you just get more of the same. It isn’t specifically about increasing gender diversity, or ethnic diversity. The concern is also that businesses can easily end up with people from the same social-economic background, same school of thought or the same life experiences.

And when you lack in diversity, you end up losing on the bottom line.

Instead, Microsoft is doing what many tech companies are being forced to do. Hire outside the club.

As the complexity technology outpaces the skills of graduates, employers like Microsoft need to think hard about what kind of skills are going to last a lifetime. Australian companies, in particular, are reporting a skills shortage across all industries.

So, according to Chuck Edward, Microsoft is starting to look at your lifelong skills and CV and looking for staff that have unique soft skills, such as a growth mindset, ability to trust and be trusted and admitting to a knowledge gap. And one area that Microsoft is expanding into is hiring strategies for people with disabilities and neurological diversity.

“There’s a business case for inclusivity”

One of the biggest events in the global calendar is the SuperBowl, and in 2019, Microsoft stole the show.

Their SuperBowl ad featured the Xbox Adaptive Controller and offered a gaming solution for players with physical disabilities and limitations. Entitled, “We All Win” it flagged how much inclusivity is going to feature in Microsoft’s future plans. In order to create this, they needed a team that understood disability well.

At the same Future Now conference, Microsoft President Brad Smith flagged the need for inclusivity.

“We really need to think hard about inclusiveness. We need to recognise that one in every seven individuals on this planet has a disability, permanent or temporary, physical or mental. And our technology when we’ve created it well can be a game changer in improving their lives.”

Microsoft has long been an advocate in this area, starting an Autism hiring program in 2015 in conjunction with SAP, JP Morgan Chase, EY, Ford Motor Company, and DXC technologies.

According to the ABS, the current labour force participation rate among people with a disability is around 53%, compared with 83% of people identifying as having no disability. For people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, that rate drops to 41%.

Source: ABS (Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, 2015)

If companies are looking for diversity in the workplace, if they’re looking for a culture that is built on trust and growth, they need look no further than this.

The untapped talent from this group is phenomenal, but for many, there is a clear lack of support on the business side. The World Economic Forum has flagged this issue, not only because the tech sector needs more staff, but because people with a disability can offer a unique skillset and insight that is lacking from our workforce.

Chuck Edward finished off his session on a poignant note:

“[It’s about] us all finding ways to get the most out of each other. It only happens via inclusion. It only happens with empathy and understanding… The future for us is deeply embracing and trying to understand others who, in turn, make us better. I think inclusion is the biggest bet.”


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