How Most Companies Mess Up Hiring for Values

In an ideal world, if your company hires people who perfectly fit your corporate values, you should have a crop of high performers perfectly aligned with your strategy, brand, and more.

Unfortunately, quite a few companies have not adequately defined their values. A recent Leadership IQ study, “Why Company Values Are Falling Short,” shows that only 24% of organizations have detailed which specific behaviors are necessary to live their company values. It stands to reason that in companies that haven’t detailed specific behaviors, it could be difficult to accurately hire for values. After all, how can you hire for values when there’s no specific delineation as to what does and doesn’t represent those values? 

But when a company has clearly defined its values, down to the specific behaviors that represent and violate those values, hiring to fit those values is pretty simple.

Imagine that one of your corporate values is innovation. Specifically, you’re looking for people who always have Plan B in mind (in case Plan A goes wrong) and enjoy studying the latest industry trends, undertaking research, and learning new information. At the same time, your aim is to avoid candidates who wait to be told what to do when the preferred plan goes wrong, and only take on new learning or training if it’s required.

With values so clearly defined, it’s a simple task to measure candidates against those standards. For example, imagine that you asked every candidate the interview question, “Could you tell me about a time you lacked the skills or knowledge to complete an assignment?”

Here’s a real-life example of an interview answer from a candidate who does not meet those values:

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“We had one client that requested a rework of a report that was my job to generate. They wanted some data breakdowns added in that weren’t part of our usual deliverable. As soon as I heard this, I said it would never work, that what they were asking us to do was impossible because we didn’t have the right data, but my boss asked me to take a stab at it. I did my best with what I had to work with, which wasn’t much. I never heard from my boss about what the client thought of it. I did the best I could, especially considering there really was no way to do what they asked for.” 

Notice how this candidate says “it would never work” before even trying. This might be someone who, when something is working OK, fails to look for even better ways to get it done. Individuals who lack innovation fail to thrive when working in an ambiguous environment where tasks are undefined and nebulous. This sounds like someone who will be unhappy when problems emerge. 

By contrast, here’s a real-life example of an answer from a candidate who does meet the innovation value:

“We had just started an entity in another country, which required significant knowledge related to the differences in currency and foreign accounting standards, which I did not have. Starting with zero knowledge, I had to quickly get up to speed. I spent significant time reading reference books and articles and working with accounting professionals to increase my skills and knowledge. In a very brief period, I was able to understand the accounting tasks and processes that were required while expanding my skills and experience.” 

This candidate provides a detailed response that describes taking self-directed initiative to meet a challenge. This sounds like someone who enjoys studying the latest industry trends, undertaking research, and learning new information and who will be able to accomplish objectives even when faced with limited resources.

Hiring for values can work incredibly well, but the organization must first clearly define its values down to the nitty-gritty. As an aside, the benefits of defining corporate values extend beyond hiring. The same Leadership IQ study discovered that employees have 107% higher employee engagement when their company has detailed what specific behaviors are necessary to live their company values. 

Mark Murphy is the CEO of Leadership IQ and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include Hiring For Attitude, Hundred Percenters, HARD Goals, and Managing Narcissists, Blamers, Dramatics and More. Mark’s groundbreaking leadership studies have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fortune, Forbes, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and U.S. News & World Report. Mark has also appeared on CNN, NPR, CBS News Sunday Morning, and ABC’s 20/20. He’s trained leaders at the United Nations, Harvard Business School, Microsoft, Mastercard, and hundreds more.

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