Monday, September 8, 2014

Recruit People Who Naturally Are Inclined to Live Your Values

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This post is part of a series in which I'm analyzing the efforts of my organization to define and embrace core values through the six rules for doing so defined by Francois Nader, CEO of NPS Pharmaceuticals. For the series introduction, go here. For my comments on the first rule, go here. For my comments on the second rule, go here. For my comments on the third rule, go here.

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Here's Nader's fourth rule, along with what he says about it in his HBR blog post:

Recruit people who naturally are inclined to live your values. This does not mean recruiting clones! It simply means populating the workforce with individuals who naturally embrace the values and become role models. Cultural fit is as significant as technical ability. Again, a company’s culture is a choice, and different people find their fulfillment in different cultures. Just make sure you identify and retain those individuals who will flourish in yours. We integrate the assessment of candidates’ values in our interview process, check references accordingly, and rely significantly on referrals.

I agree entirely with this recommendation, and it is something that I have been focusing on in our hiring practices ever since we put our core values down on paper. I've shared them with potential candidates and asked them to comment on them. I've written and asked interview questions designed to explore their themes. I've asked references for examples of how candidates do or do not demonstrate them. I've used them as discussion points with my leadership team in making decisions between otherwise equally-qualified candidates.

But despite all these efforts, two factors have made this rule challenging to adopt fully in my organization.

First, we're small. We have twelve staff positions, and although we currently have two vacancies, that is not normally the case. As a result, hiring is an episodic practice, not a continuous one. It can be difficult to bring a new institutional focus to something you do only every once and a while. But more critically, we don't always have our pick of candidates. Our small size and the specialized function of our organization and its positions means that we often don't have dozens of interested and qualified candidates to pick from. Sometimes, there's only one (or less), and it's really difficult to let positions go unfilled while you wait for the perfect candidate to emerge.

Second, we're trying to change our culture. To a certain degree, the values I'm hiring for are not the values currently embraced by the organization. A new employee, sold and selected based on the aspirational values we've defined, can enter an organization that is not fully living up to that promise. That creates friction on both sides of the relationship. The new employee wonders if they've made the right decision, and can feel like they are swimming upstream. And the existing staff questions the fit of the new employee, rejecting rather than embracing the different ways of thinking and doing the new employee represents. Rather than moving the organization closer to the values it believes it needs for success, the result can be more conflict and dysfunction.

Neither of these factors is a reason to abandon Nader's recommendation to recruit people who naturally are inclined to live your values, but they do create some additional complexity that a leader has to take into account. Since culture is a product of the people who make up an organization, in hiring, my focus has to remain on the organization we're trying to create, not necessarily the one that currently exists.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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