Every Hire Has Been a Good One Since This CEO Started Hiring for Values
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Hiring for culture fit seems like a no-brainer for businesses looking to hire and keep top talent. Culture is important, but it’s fluid, difficult to define in any certain terms. Values, on the other hand, are constant. They remind you why you’re doing the work and who you’re doing it with.
As companies like Patagonia, Zappos and Starbucks prove, solid values build strong brands. I learned about the importance of values while working at large companies, most recently Apple and Walmart. These companies know who they are and who they aren’t.
While the culture of each team may differ, they’re united by values. Every organization within Apple, for instance, values the cross-pollination of ideas. They hire people who thrive in collaborative environments, who are constantly iterating and improving based on new information and who enjoy working with others to achieve something greater.
When starting my first company, Narvar, in 2012, I realized that if we were going to screw up as a business, it would be because we failed to hire people who aligned with our values. I interview everyone we hire, which means 15-20 interviews per week. I’m assessing whether they’ll work well with our team in this role and in the coming years. I’m determining how they’ll contribute to a diverse and inclusive workplace. And that requires hiring for values fit, not for culture fit.
Clarify what you mean by "values."
Distinguish between values, like transparency and compassion, and cultural norms, like weekly game nights or a particular sense of humor. Mark Zuckerberg has explained core values in terms of sacrifice. Values are not just concepts that sound good; they are principles you are willing to invest in -- and make sacrifices for.
Write down your values and share them. Put them on your website and list them alongside your job openings. Encourage current employees to refer people who embody these values. Remind everyone they’re important: frame them on the walls, talk about them during company-wide meetings, and frame feedback and praise in terms of values.
At my company, we’ve defined what we mean by each value. For example, by “Be humble,” we mean that we’re good listeners and pragmatic problem-solvers who show more than we tell. We prioritize impact over ego, and we don’t work with people whose pride gets in the way of teamwork.
This definition guides us toward questions that get to the heart of these values. For instance, if I’m gauging someone’s humility, I might ask them to tell me about the last time they were wrong and how they’ve learned to be wrong in front of other people.
Evaluate your recruiting and interviewing practices for bias.
Because culture fit is a vague and subjective concept, it can lead to biased recruiting and hiring. It can be used as a reason, conscious or not, to turn down candidates who seem different.
Look at how you’re describing open roles in job postings and on your website. Does your company come across as an inviting place for people from different backgrounds? Make sure your language doesn’t subtly discourage people from applying because they don’t fit into your idea of what a UX designer, VP of sales or product manager “should” be.
Make sure you’re widening your recruiting outreach to people beyond your network -- for instance, by partnering with organizations whose communities look different from your own.
Finally, think about the interview itself. Interviews will always be somewhat subjective and therefore biased, but you can mitigate some of this bias by standardizing a set of questions and scorecards for evaluating candidates.
Charge everyone with assessing values fit.
I recommend setting up a dedicated “values” interview for every candidate. This is often my role as CEO, but it can also be anyone who isn’t on the immediate team you’re hiring for. Perhaps this is someone from a cross-functional team who can gauge how a candidate will operate within the context of the company. People on our customer success team, for example, interview sales and engineering candidates.
I challenge every leader and hiring manager to redefine culture fit. While it’s a worthy concept, it can all too easily lead to homogeneity and stasis. If you’re staying within predefined cultural boundaries, you may create a fun and familiar work environment -- but you’re also unlikely to challenge people to break out of their comfort zones and grow the business in a breakthrough way.
Hiring for values fit, on the other hand, gives you a foundation for incredible growth. This approach to hiring has helped my company grow from a team of 50 to 160 in a single year, evolving our culture along the way. This alignment has helped us reflect and take smart leaps forward. It requires commitment, but it’s worth it to build a more innovative company and a more diverse team.