How to hire on values

Posted by | April 20, 2021 | Employers, Recruiting tips, Retention


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By Carolyn Brown

Values are more than a statement of intent.

Your for-purpose organisation has visions and values. You are proud of them and promote them on websites and in publications and marketing materials. But do you incorporate your values into the recruitment process and day-to-day running of your organisation?

Do you provide prospective employees with a copy of your values or include at least one value-based question in interviews?

How about your existing employees; do they know your company values and how they apply to their role, relationships with other staff, and themselves? Do they live by them?

For-purpose organisations have the best of intentions; they want to make the world a better place, and it is often a given that their employees do as well.

Sadly,  not all organisations work this way. Toxic workplaces exist in the for-purpose space too. I know of a few do-gooders (including myself) who have left an organisation because the values didn’t match the reality of the work environment. They take with them stories of workplace bullying, harassment, lack of team-work, excessive overtime, lack of appreciation, and management decisions that seemed in opposition with value statements. They believed in the vision but left because of the internal conflict.

Their leaving could, in many cases, have been avoided if the organisation’s values were firmly embedded in strategy.


What are values?

Values are not your why (e.g. to end global poverty). They are your how. How your organisation works to fulfil its mission and what people can expect when they interact with you, as clients/customers, supporters, suppliers, funders and employees.

Values are not a slogan designed to make people feel good about your organisation; they should be embedded in your strategy, structure and procedures.

Values can be measured, for example:

  • “We are transparent” is evidenced by financial and social reports available to anyone who wants them.
  • “We are flexible” is evidenced by employment contracts that meet the employee’s needs and the employer, i.e. flexi-time, working from home etc.
  • “We work as a team” is evidenced by high satisfaction reports from employees who feel supported and included in decisions that affect their role.

Values attract and retain employees who believe in them, and provide the structure for work to be executed. The analogy being – we are in the same waka; everyone knows how their role fits in, knows how to do it, and we all want to go in the same direction.


Why is talking about your values important?

Values remind all involved with your organisation of how they should behave and work with others within and outside of the organisation – they are a clear set of expectations.

When everyone (CEO’s included) understand and work to those values, research has proven that organisational goals are easier to achieve; morale is consistently high; people stay longer and burn out less, and overall performance is far greater than those who do not.


Hiring on value

Hiring someone on values does not mean that you are out to create a workforce that all think and act the same way you do. Nor does it mean you only hire people you would want to be friends with (otherwise known as “the beer test”).

Values-based recruiting ensures that the people you bring in have similar values as the organisation and can demonstrate those values in action. For example, if one of your values is good communication, then the applicant would be assessed on how well they communicate. Values-based recruitment is not about how the candidate looks, but how they act and the values they live by.

Values are soft skills and are often considered more desirable than hard skills because it is easier to teach someone how to do something, than teach them how to be.

Unless there is a requirement for a professional qualification , e.g. Doctor, Lawyer. Although even then, soft skills (aka communication and people skills ) are considered an essential part of the role.


It takes skill to hire on values

As previously mentioned, when you include value-based criteria into the recruitment process, it is easy to fall into the trap of hiring people like you (beware of the unconscious bias). But there are some steps you can take to make the process a fair and equitable one:

  • Ensure applicants know of your organisation’s values before applying for the role and how those values apply to the role. (Medecins sans frontieres do this well)
  • Show how your company lives its values and how employees benefit from living them too.
  • Include assessment tools designed to identify values-based attributes, e.g. cognitive ability, situational judgement tests, and personality questionnaires.
  • Use a recruitment agency or dedicated HR personnel to assess applications – they have been trained in assessing and, therefore, less likely to act on bias.
  • Use values-based interview techniques during the interview, e.g. role-plays, questions designed to show how the applicant applies their values to a role.


Be the organisation you want to see in the world

I conducted a small piece of research on well-known organisations and companies before writing this blog. Ten out of ten profit-focused companies included in their website’s careers section their values, how they were actioned, and the list of qualities they were looking for in prospective employees. In comparison, only four out of ten for-purpose organisations surveyed did the same.

The profit-focused companies also had similar visions of creating a better world using their product or service. Greenwashing aside, what was clear from their websites and backed by HR recruitment agencies was that their values are considered an integral part of the business and recruitment.

For-purpose organisations already find it difficult to attract staff because of the perceived lower wages the industry offers. The attraction used to be “working for good”, but it appears profit-focused companies now do this too. The only way for-purpose can compete is to ensure that their values are embedded throughout the organisation, amplify the do-good benefits of working for them, and truly be the change they want to see in the world



About Carolyn Brown

Carolyn enjoys writing stuff that engages readers, makes them feel like they are in a conversation with the screen, and doesn’t require a dictionary on standby to make sense of what she has written.

When she is not creating content, she likes to keep busy volunteering for various not for profits; throwing sticks to her step-dog as they walk along North Beach in Christchurch, and enjoying the company of friends. If you would like to know more, head on over to her website or email her at [email protected]

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