I am often asked how to interview someone to determine their values, and how well they may fit into a strong values-based organizational culture. We’re all looking for that highly intelligent, hard worker, who is a person of high integrity, who will do the right thing for the business, and treat employees, colleagues and customers fairly. The core values of our company are what we are asking these candidates to perpetuate and champion throughout our organization. Our values and culture are the truly competitive differentiators of a great organization. As such we need to know if they really believe in who we are and what we stand for, or whether they are simply blowing smoke in order to get a job.
Most of us have, at one time or another, hired someone we thought had these characteristics, but later learned we had made a mistake. So how is it done? Answering this question is especially important in the light of anti-discrimination laws associated with what is legal and illegal to ask in an interview.
Let me first say how critically important it is for your company to have clearly articulated core values. These are the behavior standards that you will not compromise. They are the principles that guide your everyday decisions, behaviors, policies and practices. They must be more than a poster on a wall. Enron had a list of values that everyone in their organization could quote. They resulted in a catchy acronym, R.I.C.E. which stood for Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence. I have heard Jeff Skillings and Ken Lay expound on these values and their importance to the organization. Yet it was their absence in practice that led to the downfall of that company. So, as you consider writing your values on a poster and preaching them to your company, ask yourself, “Is there anything or circumstance that could cause us to compromise on any one of these principles/values?” If so, don’t include it in your list.
There are many examples of companies whose core values are living, breathing words and principles that guide their every decision.
Check out core values of the following companies
- Tyson Foods Core: http://www.tysonfoods.com/Our-Story/Core-Values.aspx.
- Texas Instruments: http://www.slideshare.net/slhigg1099/ti-core-values-3226125
- JMSmucker: http://www.jmsmucker.com/smuckers-corporate/basic-beliefs
- Walmart: http://corporate.walmart.com/our-story/working-at-walmart/culture
You may also consider doing what Smucker’s did. Their leadership expressed awareness that values could sometimes come into conflict with one another. So they helped their employees by creating a decision tree, which told them which one to choose when facing such a dilemma. I always encourage my clients not only to list their values, but to rank them in order of importance, which also can assist in the face of such dilemmas.
When interviewing a candidate, I ask them if they have become familiar with our company’s values. If they have, I know that these may be important to them, and that they may be a person who is interested in working with a company where their values are in alignment. If they haven’t done their research, that provides insight as well. I ask them how they feel about our core values, what these values mean to them. I ask them how they will be a champion for our core values in the new role if they are selected. I am listening for alignment and whether their values appear to be superficial, or core to who they are and what they believe. I then begin to present them with real workplace situations in which true ethical dilemmas are present, in order to learn where and how they draw the line, and how they will manage the consequences of their choices. I ask them to describe ethical dilemmas they have faced in their past work experience and how they handled them, and why they handled them the way they did.
I may also administer a pre-selection assessment, such as the Hogan Assessment Suite. Hogan’s Motives, Values and Preferences Inventory along with their Development Survey provide great insight into what is important to this individual, whether there is alignment with the primary drivers of our organization, what drives their behavior, insight into how the they manage their stressors and what their performance challenges may be. All these insights provide additional information that leads to further inquiry in interviews and follow up coaching and development conversations.
I want to know if they understand the difference between acting/leading with the big picture in mind, versus acting/leading for immediate gratification and reward. We are all aware of the studies completed by Walter Mischel and Shane Frederick. One gave four year old children a choice between one Oreo now, or two Oreos in fifteen minutes. Those who resisted and waited showed higher skills of control in cognitive tasks, intellectual aptitude, IQ scores, and emotional control, all of which followed them well into adult life. The other asked students to complete a seemingly simple, yet complex test. Those that took the time to study the test and come up with the less obvious, but correct answer, demonstrated disciplined, rather than lazy thinking, that would make them less susceptible to cognitive errors and emotionally laden decision making. As I proceed with the interview, I am listening for how these values of discipline, delayed gratification, emotional control and disciplined thinking developed and became important to them over the course of their career.
I also encourage hiring managers to spend more than an hour interview with candidates so they can see them in various settings. How may people have considered marrying their spouse after a one hour dinner? Very few. I mean, some people are simply very good at making great first impressions. Getting past the first impression, and becoming more objective and less emotional about your decision may take more than one or two interviews. So take the time necessary to move this interview from acquaintance to marriage. This is especially important for higher impact leadership positions.
It is so important to get this right. We can teach the functional/technical aspects of a job, but that which is core to the person, and critical to the organizational culture is more difficult to teach. The people you hire are seen by your employees as a reflection of who you are and how important the values and culture of the organization are to you. Make sure every hire reflects your commitment to your core values.