Unlock your values: How to evolve your values-based hiring process

If you are new to the topic and wondering what values-based hiring is all about, then please check out our article from last year before reading this one. Now we will take a more in-depth look at how to create values-based hiring within your organisation.

Define your values

You need well-defined values to succeed. This is the most important piece of the puzzle. If you’re early on in your values journey, set aside time to brainstorm and share inspiration from companies and people you admire and respect. Gather your team together and find out what is important to everyone in the room. This is the hardest part and I’ll be totally transparent – getting your values right early on is challenging, so consider using a third party to facilitate the discussion between your team. 

There are no two ways about it and no ‘quick wins’ on this. I cannot stress enough how important it is to invest time in this process. The values you define collectively might shape your team and the organisation you aim to build over decades. The key here is not to be afraid to be original and get it wrong. It took us a couple of years before we started to develop our values at Equitas and they are still a work in progress.

Look outside before you look in

John Lewis & Partners is an example of an organisation that shares power with its employees and operates on democratic principles. Over 3,000 elected representatives report into three governing authorities, which run the Partnership and follow a guiding principle. This core value underpins everything and has been the same for more than 100 years. 

Keep it lean

Limit the number of values you choose. The minimum amount of values needed is three, and a maximum of six, but you can cut these down and refine them as time goes on. The last thing you want is an endless list that causes confusion, repeats itself or becomes irrelevant. 

Lean values make it easier to turn them into actionable behaviours that you and your team are motivated by and align to. Gitlab has an excellent approach to defining and communicating its values clearly by creating an easy to remember acronym CREDIT and the use of emojis (🤝 Collaboration, 📈 Results, ⏱️ Efficiency, 🌐 Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging, 👣 Iteration, and 👁️ Transparency,)

“Values are not just things we do but things that actively drive good behaviour. When we remove them it doesn’t mean we stopped believing in it, just that it wasn’t actively helping to drive behaviour. If we don’t prune our sub-values, then we will be like every other company, things that make sense but are not leading to a better culture.” – Gitlab

The Goldilocks Effect

I’m drawn to the analogy of the Goldilocks Effect so much when it comes to getting the recipe right with values. You might wonder what a fairytale reference has to do in this article but this effect in writing is our tendency to consume information that’s not too long, detailed and complex, yet not too short, simple and watered down. We all engage a lot more with writing that carries us across the page effortlessly but also teaches us novel and interesting information. It’s very hard to do in literature and it’s equally hard to do in getting the right combination of values. But it is definitely worth the effort. 

A great example of an organisation that has kept its values short and sweet and uses a good dose of humour and self-deprecation along the way is innocent. Don’t be fooled by the playful tone of this brand however, their values are concise, refined and with many real-life examples for prospective candidates. An excellent balance and in their words:

“Our values are a big part of what makes us, us…We use them in our weekly catch-ups and our end-of-year reviews, in big meetings, small meetings and chats around the coffee machine. They’re even plastered on the walls and hung in every bathroom. Have a read through and if you like them, maybe you can hang them up in your own loo.”

The opposite of lean values results in a memory test for you and your employees, don’t create too many values with lengthy descriptions. Having a lack of direction can make it hard to apply to day-to-day decision making. Amazon’s leadership principles are a great resource but are the perfect example of this as they have become a bit of a lengthy shopping list. This can help as an extensive playbook for decentralised teams but at some point it can become too lengthy and complex.

From culture-fit to value-add

Communicate the power of value-add over value-alignment and don’t fall into the affinity bias trap of “culture fit.” There has been a real turning point in the industry on this with loud calls to stop hiring those who are identical to the workforce you already have. Bayo Adelaja, CEO of London-based diversity consultancy, Do It Now believes culture-fit is a cop-out. In a BBC article, she states that companies that reject applicants based on cultural fit are likely perpetuating racism, ageism and sexism in the process. 

Patty McCord, who was chief talent officer at Netflix for 14 years adds to the debate on culture fit

“Finding the right people is also not a matter of “culture fit.” What most people really mean when they say someone is a good fit culturally is that he or she is someone they’d like to have a beer with. But people with all sorts of personalities can be great at the job you need to be done. This misguided hiring strategy can also contribute to a company’s lack of diversity.”

Interviewers need to be open-minded and objective when hiring, just because someone is different or might not be akin to previous colleagues or friends does not mean they are not right. The key questions to get interviewers to ask themselves is: 

“Would you hire someone you didn’t like if you knew they were the best person for the role?”.

Review and refine

If you are a bit further along in your journey and already have some well-defined values, you can skip straight to the second stage of the process; the values review. You can do this internally if you have the time and resources, as your team is such a rich source of information to find out if your values are really resonating and embedding. Listen to the people who are most directly impacted by them and simply take the time on a regular basis to ask the following questions:

1. Can you name all of the company values?

2. What impact do they have in your day to day work?

3. Is this list of values relevant to you?

4. How do our values influence your behaviour?

5. Which values do you connect most with?

6. Which value would you cut if you had to?

7. Is there anything that you think is missing?

Seek an outside voice 

It’s very useful to have an external third party review your values. There are a lot of different coaches out there who will offer this as a service and when setting companies’ values frameworks up on Equitas’ interview software, we analyse and review the questions to make sure they make sense. If you are a little worried about whether your culture and values are being applied, there are ways to check. 

Kat Searson, Founder of Tula Wellbeing has designed a “Culture MOT” which goes a step deeper than our approach at Equitas. After years at innocent drinks and Red Bull in varied people performance roles, she saw the tension between workplace culture, wellbeing and performance. Tula is about wellbeing, backed by science. It sits at the intersection of physical, mental and emotional health, business and people, and team culture and performance. According to Kat,

“This has always been a prerequisite for me when I’ve been recruiting. We used the values across performance management, decision making and so many other touchpoints at innocent.” 

Values are great but what about behaviours?

You can spend a lot of money and development time on your values. The early phase is when you will bring the most energy and motivation to the task and you might post them proudly on your website or your office wall but then never really look at them or use them again. The last thing you want is well-defined values growing dusty in your employee handbook or empty words in social media posts. You want your values to live, to be tangible and held proudly by each member of your team. 

Bretton Putter, CEO of Culture Gene is spot-on with his advice on how to move to the next level of behaviours. In his opinion, hiring for culture fit is impossible and strongly cautions against it, 

“It doesn’t matter which company you are, you don’t know what your culture is because your culture is this random collection of good and bad behaviours, habits, communication styles, rituals, routines, processes and systems that are changing all the time. So if you try to hire for culture fit, you’re trying to hire for my interpretation or our small group interpretation of our culture, and we don’t actually know what it is.”

Behaviours need to filter into your hiring and interview process. Call it what you want, behaviours, or sub-values, but it needs to be easy for interviewers to understand and assess against. Create the right questions for each value that are relevant and applicable to what you are looking for as a company and break them down into observable behaviours. Keep these behavioural descriptions short, sharp and concise so that both interviewers and candidates can relate to them and aren’t confused by buzz words or difficult to interpret terms. 

Make sure to involve your interviewers in this creation process. Their enthusiasm and sense of co-creation will energise the implementation of values-based interviewing. 

Create values-based interview questions and scoring

Interviewing on values shows candidates how important they are to you as a company. It demonstrates that you actually care about them and have hired them based on scoring high on these core values. I would caution against typing ‘values-based interview questions’ into Google as this will probably lead you to Indeed or Workable articles. These are a great starting point for getting familiar with the topics but you need to go deeper into what questions are unique to your organisation but can be broadly applicable. 

This does not mean not assessing the role and the skills required, you definitely should do this at some point throughout the hiring process, but get clear on the questions that will trigger candidates to think deeply or get beneath the surface of an application. 

Creating values-based scoring is incredibly challenging but adds huge value to a reliable and effective hiring process. Values-based scoring that’s based on a structured interviewing technique takes time to develop. You need to be fully committed to it, dedicated to keeping it refreshed and up to date and make sure that your interviewers follow the process. You might believe you have an excellent judge of character, but bias is part of human nature. We can’t escape this reality. Keep interviewers accountable with the data you capture and remove risks where possible. 

Educate your team and don’t create interview fatigue

According to Patty McCord during her time at Netflix as Chief Talent Officer, “Every hiring manager should understand the company’s approach to hiring and how to execute on it, down to the smallest detail.” If your organisation counts 10 people in total, it’s a lot easier for hiring managers to implement values-based hiring into their process. But what happens if you grow to 50 or 300 employees or begin the challenge of hiring at scale? Using structured interviewing can help with assessing candidates in an organised way. 

Research has shown that this approach can be predictive of how candidates will perform in a role that might be unstructured. Google’s staffing team analysed past interview data over five years that found that more than four interviews was enough to make a decision, with 86% confidence. Interestingly, after the fourth interviewer, the increase in accuracy dropped off dramatically. With each additional interview, the accuracy of the mean interview score’s ability to predict a hire or no hire decision, increased less than 1%. It’s also a great idea to look to other companies who are working to create a fair and inclusive workplace. A guide that I highly recommend is from Venture Capital firm Atomico

Champion role models 

One of my favourite tips from my conversations on how to bring values to life is to bring it into your team’s working week. One company that works in an ‘Agile’ way dedicates a team ‘stand-up’ to talk about examples of where they put their values into action and the behaviours that were demonstrated. This helps new and existing team members to understand what’s expected and offers concrete examples to learn from. You can do this when hiring at scale, have open ‘stand-ups’ and ‘wash-ups’ where you can share examples and have interviewers benchmark against each other and the content they have heard. No two candidates are identical but sharing examples and interview content makes the interviewer’s job easier when conducting high volume hiring. 

Another tip is to give your team ownership and consistent consultation on your values. By mobilising engaged employees into ‘Values task forces’ or ‘Values champions’, creates an opportunity for teams to communicate and inspire at the peer level. It also creates a safe forum where feelings and feedback can be shared with management anonymously if needed. Certain values will resonate more with your team, from the leadership level, right down to the most recent hire. Encourage this and let the team feel involved and shape how values are lived with creative ideas and enthusiasm. 

Track the data pre-values and post-values

Some of the most successful companies in recent history have used values-based hiring and interview frameworks to help them grow quickly but there is no one structured interview framework to rule them all. So just use common sense, pick interview frameworks and a structure that works for you as a company, get buy-in from your hiring managers and commit.