There has to be some mechanism by which employees gain admittance to your organization. Clearly, if you run a hospital and you need a thoracic surgeon, you’re looking for someone with the right education, credentials and experience. You employ a similar approach if you’re hiring a plumber, chef or accountant. But down through the years, hiring someone just because they have the right technical skills has resulted in a breathtakingly large number of terrible hires. “Qualifed” hires have produced sub-par work, destroyed morale, denigrated co-workers, undermined bosses, abused customers and committed a truckload of other organizational “sins”.
If technical skills are only one part of the screening process, what else should it include? In my opinion, you start with the core values of the organization. Core values are the personal and professional beliefs of the founder(s) that make their way into the behavior of the people in the organization. They’re manifested in the priorities of the organization. They are the personal rules the founder(s) would live by no matter where they worked. They are the personal rules that the founders would follow even if they became detrimental to the organization. They are the non-negotiable ideals that govern interactions within the company (team member-to-team member), with customers and with vendors. To borrow a phrase from the US founding documents, they are the truths that are self-evident. Employees who don’t embrace and live out these values are destined to feel out of place in the organization.
Some things in an organization are a creative process – writing a mission statement, defining a vision and, to a certain extent, even building a culture. But identifying core values is a discovery process.
When I do a core values exercise with a client, a few “values” surface immediately – honesty, integrity, hard-working. I always make clients throw these out. These “price of admission” values don’t count. No employer goes looking for employees who are dishonest, morally bankrupt, or lazy. The core values you’re after are those 4 – 8 overarching ideas that make up your organization’s behavioral compass.
I’m always reluctant to use my company to illustrate a point but in this case, it might make sense. Here are three of the core values of ClearVision Consulting –
- A love for small business owners – I hold in the highest regard those people who have risked their personal wealth and banked on their God-given talent to uniquely solve problems for their target clients. Their desire to build a better life for themselves and their families must be celebrated. They deserve to have someone in their corner equipping them and cheering them on.
- A desire to dig deep and understand the client’s business – I will learn as much about the client’s business as they will allow me to learn. Over the years, as I’ve done research into process improvements or created strategic plans, I’ve loaded produce on a truck, checked in resort guests, stocked shelves in a store, sat in board meetings, sat in staff meetings, conducted interviews, evaluated vendors, written SQL code and a few hundred more things. More times than I can count, I’ve fielded calls from executives who had questions about how things work inside their organizations and I’ve been able to answer them because I’m intimately familiar with their work. If I don’t know the client’s company intimately, how can I help them craft strategies that will take them where they want to go and remake processes that will transform their value creation activities?
- A commitment to treat client resources like they are my own – before I recommend that a client spend money, hire or fire an employee or invest in a new product or market, I ask myself if I’d make the same investment with my own resources. They deserve someone who will preserve their hard-fought-for capital.
If someone came to work with me and didn’t hold to these values, they’d never survive in the organization. This is who I am and, as far as I’m concerned, this is how business should be done. This is the way core values work. They are heart-felt beliefs that translate into real-life actions in the organization.
Before we jump into this week’s exercise, let me remind of how you’re going to use your core values. I used employment as my opening example and that will be an important application, but you want to use your core values to judge all future associations. If you use vendors who share your core values, they become true partners. If you market to customers who share your core values, they become strong referrals partners for you and might even give you a couple of mulligans if you drop the ball.
So, how do you find the core values of your organization? The answers to these questions should get you there.
- What business behavior makes you mad when you see it? Why does it make you mad? Which of your closely held values is “offended”?
- What are the worst ways your employees could drop the ball? What could they do that would ruin your company’s reputation? Lose customers? Make you feel ashamed of the company? Which of your closely held beliefs about how to do business are being violated?
- If you worked for another company, what personal rules would you live by (taking care of customers, looking out for the company’s equipment, etc) even if the company’s rules were less stringent?
- What behaviors would you maintain even if it were detrimental to the company financially?
- What behaviors do you admire in other people and companies and seek to emulate? Why?
- When customers speak favorably about your company, what qualities do they cite? What did you or your employees do to make them get that vibe?
- What are the jointly revered business beliefs and behaviors in the core team (the people who’ve stuck around the longest and who constitute the DNA of the company)? What makes them stay and stay loyal?
Get answers to these questions down on paper or a whiteboard and connect some dots. What themes surface? Look for approaches to work (e.g. data-driven decision-making or brutal honesty among team members), approaches to customers (e.g. highly tailored solutions or first call problem resolution) and operational priorities (e.g. work products that don’t require rework or open book management). Select four to eight and include a short description with each one. Here are a couple of examples –
- Balance – we control our schedule and successfully manage our personal and professional priorities and accord that privilege and the trust that goes with it to everyone in the organization.
- Rewarding – our work brings exceptional value to the client and enriches us personally and professionally.
Roll your list out to a few folks in the organization. Ask them, “Is this us?” If they say, “no”, ask them why not. That might indicate that you, as a leader, aren’t living out your values in the organization. Take their feedback and return to the drawing board. Repeat until you’ve got your final list.
After you have it, write questions to use in your interview process that help job candidates explain how they embody these values. If they don’t have the values, don’t hire them. Then use the values to vet vendors and write marketing content. You’re looking for people who, as Simon Sinek would say, “share your why”.