If you have read anything about hiring or heard any experts on the topic speak, you have undoubtedly heard that one of the keys to effective hiring is to hire for cultural fit. And culture is all about shared values, right?

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos speaks widely about the importance of cultural fit and hiring for values. In fact, at Zappos candidates are assessed for both technical competence and cultural fit on 10 core values. If it is determined that a candidate is not a cultural fit; they are not hired regardless of how technically skilled they may be.

Often though companies espouse the importance of values; post them prominently on the walls of the corporate office; tick them off to job applicants and then totally ignore them when selecting a final candidate.

So am I saying that Tony Hsieh is wrong and the slew of companies that disregard values when making a final offer have it right? No. Hiring people who share the values of your company is actually critical to ongoing success for at least a couple of reasons.

First, shared values guide decisions and behaviors helping insure consistency across the company. Second, clarity and alignment of values helps drive commitment. In their book, The Truth About Leadership, James Kouzes and Barry Posner share research indicating that when someone is clear on their values and the organizations values they report being significantly more committed to the organization.

The problem is a lot of company’s (probably most) get it wrong when it comes to values and end up doing more damage than good.

Here’s why.

Many companies simply select a list of cliché words and post them on the wall without consideration of whether or not the company really exemplifies these values. Everyone then goes about their daily business without any accountability to living the values on a day to day basis. In fact, often there is a great deal of variability in the way individuals across the organization define each value leading to less consistency not more.

How do you keep values from being just words on a wall?

Clearly define the behaviors that represent each of the values. Using the analogy of an iceberg, values are below the surface of the water. We cannot directly see a value. What we see are the behaviors that are driven by the value; – the part of the iceberg that is above the water.

Once the desired behaviors are clearly defined; we can then set expectations around these behaviors being consistently taken by all team members. When I work with clients around the topic of values I ask them the question; “If I was a “fly on the wall” how would I know that a team member was exhibiting a value; what would he or she be doing or saying that would be representative of the value?

As an example, one of Zappos core values is humility. One of the ways they assess whether or not a job candidate has this value is to ask the shuttle van driver that picks the candidate up at the airport how they were treated by the candidate. What behaviors did the shuttle driver experience that would indicate the presence or lack of humility?

Which brings me full circle back to the title of this post – Forget About Values When Hiring – focus on the behaviors that represent the company’s core values instead. Then conduct behavioral interviewing to determine when and how the candidate has exhibited those behaviors in the past.

Yes, it takes a lot more work than simply slapping some words on a wall. It requires:

  • Identifying core values
  • Developing a shared definition of each value
  • Delineating one to three behaviors that represent each value
  • Developing a series of interview questions to determine when and how the candidate has displayed these behaviors in the past

Then when you are conducting interviews you can forget about values and simply focus on behaviors.