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Hire for Values to Maximize the Value of Your Employment Culture


As we’ve been discussing in recent articles, the catalysts that spawned the sharing economy and a more fluid, on-demand approach to work have altered the very landscape of business and the talent forces that power it. Contingent workforce leaders are transforming from transactional to tactical advisers. Freelancing has become the new normal in non-traditional employment, and it’s happened by choice rather than necessity. The increasing presence of robots and automation, more than destroying the livelihood of talent, may be creating new opportunities. Digital and intellectual commerce are emerging as new forms of capital. The point is, we can’t measure or forecast performance the same way. The elastic nature of business has forced us to focus more on strategic hiring and cultural fit. The secret, however, lies in identifying compatible values more than integration to an established mindset. If optimal talent acquisition is your goal, hire for values, not just culture.

Culture or Values?

We frequently talk about the importance of cultural fit in strategic hiring initiatives. It’s a red-hot topic, partly because it ties together so many other aspects of a successful recruiting campaign: employee engagement, brand, team integration and much more. And yet we’ve also seen the darker side of cultural fit. This comes into play when hiring managers mistake familiarity and personal preferences for culture. Naturally, that lack of inclusion can lead to a homogenous workforce where diverse perspectives and novel ideas seldom materialize. Values-based hiring is the code that unleashes the mysteries of genuine cultural fit.

In 2016, Amy Gulati explored this issue in her article for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). A candidate’s beliefs and values drive his or her behavior. Where, for instance, behavioral interviewing concentrates on a worker’s response to past issues, values-based hiring delves into the worker’s ability to think strategically, contribute to the organization’s long-term success, innovate and evolve.

“We are driven by thoughts and beliefs, and this is the greatest predictor of how someone will move in his or her career path,” wrote Gulati, quoting David Naylor who is the executive vice president for global learning and development with the New York consultancy 2logical.

Citing Naylor’s insight, Gulati explained how to identify values that are positively correlated with workplace success:

  • Has the candidate shown a propensity to take ownership?
  • Does the candidate believe in his or her own adaptability?
  • Can the candidate navigate adversity?
  • Does the candidate believe that he or she can set and achieve goals?
  • Does the candidate believe that he or she can overcome fears?

When asked to describe the difference between culture and values, a lot of people struggle. Consider a standard interviewing process. As a best practice, recruiters are instructed to develop questions that measure how well an applicant will fit an existing corporate culture:

  • “Are you willing to work late hours and occasional weekends to meet deadlines?”
  • “Are you comfortable working at an office every day instead of remotely?”
  • “Do you prefer to work independently or as part of a large team?”
  • “How do you feel about operating in an open workspace rather than a private office or cubicle?”
  • “Do you think you can be productive without direct supervision?”

Although the questions differ from business to business, the gist is clear. And so are the potential pitfalls. By focusing on these elements of the company’s environment, we can actually narrow the culture to only individuals who appear to be like everyone else. Queries such as these also put us at risk for depicting an unfavorable impression of the business or bringing in the wrong candidates. Think about the very first question. A highly qualified candidate may assume by the nature of the question that no work-life balance exists. Another candidate may have no issue working late nights, yet that could be the result of a troublesome relationship at home -- not a passionate commitment to accomplish critical tasks.

Insisting on cultural fit -- almost for the sake of itself -- deprives us of the economic and innovation benefits that diversity brings. Looking for values, on the other hand, gives us amazing insight to the attitude, character, work ethic, integrity, dedication and accountability of a professional we truly need.

Hire for Values

A typical interview can turn into a rambling and formless affair. Not only does it lack structure, it also tells recruiters little about the candidates, apart from how they communicate, conduct themselves in meetings and appear similar or different to others in the organization. In a values-based hiring process, questions tend to be more open-ended. They are positioned to help recruiters or hiring managers discover optimal behavioral and character traits.

When crafted correctly, however, the questions are always the same for every applicant. This approach allows us to objectively compare the answers of all candidates while removing the guesswork. Decisions become more educated and less predicated on instinct or familiarity. Here’s an example.

Let’s say you’re in the market for a top business development person. The candidate provides a stellar resume. She’s worked in the same industry, holds the same educational background as the team, has demonstrated sales success with similar clients, and moves among the same circles. In short, she seems familiar. Beyond that, though, she’s advertising some eye-catching claims. In her last position, for instance, she drove revenues up by nearly 40 percent. You ask the candidate to explain the steps she took to achieve that outcome. And she can’t.

“Being able to articulate the behaviors associated with achievements is a key component of values hiring and one that a traditional interview strategy usually misses,” said Ann Rhoades, former Chief People Officer for Southwest Airlines.

Values-based hiring ensures that we find candidates who will build up our organizations instead of forcing them to shift in a different direction. It’s a framework that encompasses recruiting, interviewing and placement.

Strategies for Values-Based Talent Acquisition

Promote Your Values in Job Postings

Companies that emphasize their core values over job requirements hire exceptional talent. By stating your values upfront, you send a clear message to candidates about the brand, the culture, the work, the mission and their importance as a team member. More crucially, postings of nature organically attract the best suited people to your organization while weeding out those with incompatible values.

Include Values Centric Questions in Job Applications

Obviously, the best applications are simple and direct. They cover the essentials: work experience, qualifications, references, education and so forth. Many applications, however, also contain a lot of convoluted questions designed to test the aptitude of prospects. A better approach is to use behavioral questions that assess the skills, adaptability and value-based tendencies of candidates.

An example would be to ask applicants about a previous project or work situation and how they handled it. Past behavior and performance are more solid indicators of growth potential and future results than nitpicking titles, keywords, industries served or universities attended. As candidates provide answers to these scenarios, you can intelligently determine the following:

  • Proof of the functional, technical and people skills ideally needed for the position
  • Work ethic and passion -- a visible level of excitement, drive, aspirations and commitment to excellence
  • Integrity -- striving to be fair and just
  • Accountability for decisions, results and honoring obligations
  • A sincere desire to support customers and colleagues
  • Creative and innovate approaches to problem solving or recommending new ideas
  • Ability to stay organized and adhere to the best practices for managing processes

Create Decision-Making Committees or Hiring Teams

As a group, work out a series of values-based questions to ask all candidates. Your goal is to develop a consistent set of effective questions with a universal format. By constructing interviews in this fashion, you weed out any biases by individual hiring managers, ensure complete alignment with the shared values everybody in the company agrees on, and maintain ongoing organizational health.

Use Data Wisely and Strategically

People analytics provide amazing insight about key performance indicators and critical metrics. However, their greatest contributions come during the planning and decision-making stages. They are tremendously adept at uncovering matching values. Motivated individuals seek purpose, a compatible business culture, a mission to share, relationships with colleagues, an environment where they can develop and contribute, and a sense of belonging.

Machines have proven instrumental in helping us identify the best prospects, measure performance, refine our searches, qualify talent and place them in the most compatible environments.

Values Inform and Shape Culture

Without values that every leader in an organization embodies and embraces, there is no culture or any reason for employees to support the mission. And yet, many companies don’t include the values litmus test in their hiring process. A few years ago in Forbes, contributor Mike Myatt referenced a survey that asked 100 managers and HR executives to list the criteria that most influenced their hiring decisions. The answers weren’t uncommon: leadership ability, intelligence, passion, out-of-the-box thinking, skills, a degree from a good school and more. Yet of the 100 answers, only two stated “integrity and character.”

“Put another way,” Myatt wrote, “if you can’t trust someone to do the right thing, it doesn’t matter how likable, passionate or talented they are… A values based approach to hiring increases performance, enhances collaboration, reduces turnover, improves morale, and creates a stable culture. The fact that character and integrity showed as poorly as they did in the survey is proof positive for why the corporate workplace struggles with hiring. If you’re going to probe for something, probe for character.”

This is exactly why my own company is growing and innovating. I personally selected every member of my leadership team. Yet, none of us are the same. We come from different backgrounds, cultures and industries. We have different skill sets and unique work experiences. If you saw us in a photograph, you might wonder what we have in common. Values are what we have in common. This is the secret to creating a rich and empowering culture that attracts the best talent, inspires performance and fuels never-ending opportunities.

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