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Posted: November 05, 2013

How to interview for core values

Hint: it begins with people, not profits

Kathleen Quinn Votaw

How do employees and candidates experience your company? I hope your answer is “through our values,” because that’s the only way to ensure that your people and culture are aligned and on a secure path to success. Most companies proudly post their values on their website, but for many that’s about as far as it goes. Too often, when it comes to taking action on behalf of employees or customers, values take a back seat to profits. If you interview and hire based on your core values, it will come naturally to your employees to live them.

Living values is always top of mind in my own business, which is probably why I felt almost giddy recently when I heard Jeff Tarr, CEO of a major corporation like DigitalGlobe™, focus his presentation almost entirely on values. What struck me most was this point: “Our values are about what we do when things get hard. You see people’s true colors, as well as your company’s, under stress.”

What company these days isn’t under some sort of stress? Will your people still act with values like integrity, respect and collaboration when some internal or external force challenges them or your business? If you “lead with values,” as Mr.Tarr does, you can be sure that your people will come through for you. DigitalGlobe, the clear leader in global Earth imagery and geospatial information, has made a practice of interviewing for values and holding people accountable for them.

Mr. Tarr has his own personal way of rewarding employees who live the company’s values. He carries pens manufactured for the military by a father whose son died while serving our country. Mr. Tarr hands out one of these special pens on the spot when someone exemplifies one of DigitalGlobe’s values. These pens remind everyone in the company that DigitalGlobe serves customers in the U.S. Military who put their lives on the line for our freedom every day. Every values-based decision DigitalGlobe’s people make honors that sacrifice.


Be Brave

It takes courage to begin interviewing for values because you have to first review whether your culture and business practices are aligned with your values and whether your people are living them—or even if they can live them in your current environment. It may mean some uncomfortable analysis and adjustments. Once you’ve made the decision to be a values-based organization, follow this process:

• Clearly define your values and communicate them throughout your organization.
• Understand how employees and candidates experience the values. Asking your top performers about their experiences is particularly helpful.
• Incorporate values-based questions into the interview process and train managers in values-based interviewing.
• Articulate and incorporate values-based behaviors into performance expectations and reviews.

Use the Zappos Model

Zappos, “the service company that happens to sell shoes,” and grew to more than $1 billion in revenue in just ten years, is widely known for living its values. They are so serious about tying together values and culture that they offer every employee $3,000 to leave the company after they complete required training in the Zappos call center. If you’re not committed to the goals and culture, Zappos prefers that you leave.

Zappos is dedicated to showing organizations that it’s possible to build a profitable business where employees love coming to work and customers are raving fans by building a values-based culture. They willingly share with anyone interested, “The Zappos Family Core Values Interview Assessment Guide,” recently published on Inc.com in its entirety. Here are a few values-based interview questions from the guide, which you can use as examples when developing your own set of questions:

Zappos value: embrace and drive change
• Have you suggested any new ideas to your manager recently? What were they? How did you present them? Were they adopted?
• Did you ever have an unpopular or minority view point and if so, did you stand up for it? What happened?

Zappos value: be adventurous, creative and open-minded
• Give me an example from your previous job(s) where you had to think and act outside the box.
• What was the best mistake you made on the job? Why was it the best?
• Tell me about a time you recognized a problem/area to improve that was outside of your job duties and solved without being asked to? What was it, how did you do it?

As Zappos continues to grow, their leaders believe that it becomes increasingly important to explicitly define the core values that serve as the foundation for their culture, brand and business strategies. It’s hard for anyone to argue against that philosophy.

Values lead—profits follow

Every company is transparent in today’s connected world. When customers are unhappy with quality or service, your entire community may hear about it within minutes. More and more, it’s critical to hire great people, people who are aligned with your values and who live them. After all, it’s not your company that creates the personal relationships and emotional bonds with your customers, it’s your people. Make interviewing for values your primary employment brand strategy. Profits will soon follow.
 

Kathleen Quinn Votaw is founder and CEO of Golden-based TalenTrust, a Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) firm that helps companies accelerate their growth by hiring exceptional talent. Kathleen is president of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), Denver. Reach Kathleen at kvotaw@talentrust.com or 303-838-3334 x5.

 

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Readers Respond

Thank you for your kind comments, Jeffrey. Living core values is hard work and you have to think about them and act upon them everyday. I am a CEO who works hard at creating a values based organization and enjoy sharing our perspective. By Kathleen Quinn Votaw on 2013 11 05
Kathleen, I have shared many of your columns over the years with employers about values. It is interesting that many companies still preach values but do not practice them and then wonder why they have high turnover and low profits resulting in drastic cutbacks of their caring employees. It is very interesting when you visit a corporate environment that talks about their core values but demonstrates none of them and then you visit a branch location that management thinks should be closed that has embraced all of the values and is producing higher income with lower turnover. Keep up the good work. By Jeffrey Fischer on 2013 11 05
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