Hire First For Values (Hiring Series 1/5)

What goes into selecting the right candidate to join your team? While there are many aspects to consider, few are more important than the values of others and how they will align with your team and organization for the best synergy and results.

In Patrick Lencioni’s “The Ideal Team Player,” he argues for the importance of hiring for values and offers his humble, hungry, and smart model. That is, exhibiting humility to think of yourself less, having the drive to pursue your goal aggressively, and the capabilities to be astute in how you interact with others. When recruiters test for these values, they are more likely to get a great teammate. Some would argue that these types of values and traits, such as having a positive mindset and a learning disposition, can be more important than having the technical skills to complete certain jobs because the latter can be more easily taught than the former. This is how Southwest Airlines and many other entities organize their culture. Hiring begins with bringing the right employees with the right values who can identify with the company’s purpose.

Let’s take a deeper look at each value:

1. Hungry. This value relates to an inner drive for excellence; you push until the job is done and are not satisfied with giving anything less than 100%. You often think about the work outside of regular hours because you care beyond your job description. The role may not just be a job for you, but a feeling of ownership and enduring impact. You think more in terms of when a job is done and not dedicated hours of work. You do not just care about your contributions, but the team outcomes. This disposition can be inspiring to other team members and motivate them to do better. Lencioni believes this is the hardest value to teach because it is all about the level of passion that you possess. If you have it in abundance, you will move mountains to get the job done, if you do not, it will be hard to discover any incentive to get you to care and be hungry for positive impact. It’s about the intrinsic motivation (you do it because you want to) over the extrinsic (you do it because you have to or simply to attain some reward). This also does not mean you have no personal life because it is not about the number of hours but the quality of work — when you are on, you are driven by care and want to see things to the end, and when you are off, you can disconnect to get that much-needed renewal that will make you more effective overall.

A dimension of the hungry characteristic relates to the eagerness to learn, which Adam Grant mentions as one of the most important criteria to look for in hiring. If you have the ability and passion for learning and acquiring new knowledge and skills, there is nothing that you cannot master. As the proverb goes, “where there is a will, there is a way.” For some generalist jobs, it is ok if you do not have the complete skillset because you will find ways to get the job done regardless, whether that means pulling in resources or developing the skills yourself. Ray Dalio’s Principles echoes a similar sentiment. He talks about not hiring people to fit their first job but providing the ability to evolve and contribute in unforeseen ways, and that’s what learners and achievement-oriented people do, they are motivated to jump in, problem-solve, and figure things out aligned with the shared mission. Three out of the five traits specified in the book Who: The A Method for Hiring would fall under this one category of hungry — motivation (a drive for achievement), initiation (taking action and inspiring others), and problem-solving (having the ability and interest to assimilate new information to get the best results).

2. Humble. Author Rick Warren says that “humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” When you are humble, you know what you are great at, you know how to use your talents well, and do not think you are more important than others. Humility means jumping in and doing any work needed by the team because you are not above any task or any person. You are comfortable using “we” language instead of “me” and can quickly apologize when you err because having that harmony is more important than your need to be right. Lencioni said humility is the single greatest attribute to being a great team player because the root of all sin is being too proud; when you are arrogant, you think you are better and deserve better and put your interests over that of the collective.

3. Smart. This one has two dimensions — being capable of doing the job and being emotionally intelligent.

The first one is being proficient enough to do the job and knowing that you can be trained to learn the skill or task for whatever you do not know. When you hire smart people, they are eager to figure things out, and even though they do not know everything, they can solve problems and grow in unfamiliar territories. Some influencers endorse the strategy of hiring people smarter than you because you want to surround yourself with capable individuals who can challenge you. As a leader, your job is to listen to your team, filter recommendations, and make the best decisions.

The second dimension is having emotional intelligence, a good awareness of themselves and others, and can regulate their emotions and be sensitive to others. They understand their strengths and weaknesses and can receive constructive criticism to make adjustments. They have tremendous people skills; they know how to emphasize and connect with others through compassion and have common sense in group situations; they know how to “read the room” and respond to other’s concerns. Lencioni notes that smart candidates “understand the dynamics of a group of people and how to say and do things to have a positive outcome on those around them.” They are good listeners, collaborators, and team players.

Lencioni says that if you hire for only one of these values, it can be dangerous because somebody who is just hungry will be a bulldozer, somebody who is just humble can be a pawn, and somebody who is just smart can be a charmer. Aiming to get all three would increase your chances of getting an excellent team player.

4. Integrity and Character. I added these components to Lencioni’s model. When you hire good people, you know they will operate in ethical ways for the best interest of others. They are honest and do not cut corners. They are friendly and enjoyable to be around. Management expert Tom Peters stresses the importance of hiring nice, empathetic people whose natural sensibilities would be to do the right thing. In contrast, if you hire a jerk, they can bring down the morale and productivity of the entire team. It does not matter how smart they are or how good they are at completing a task if it reduces the collective performance and happiness. People yearn to connect with good people doing good work and it makes the work that much more enjoyable.

While this is the model mainly used by Lencioni, which fits his organization’s culture, you want to be sure to pick the values that align with your culture. Before interviewing candidates, you can gather your team to ask how they would define the culture and the three most important values. Your team can even help you determine the behaviors that exhibit those values. For example, if you care about being a team player, you need to measure this in the interview. You can ask about the projects they were a part of and how their contributions made the overall group better. How did they put in processes to thrive and avoid or minimize conflicts that can derail projects? Tell me when you had to partner with two other stakeholders and what you did to get their buy-in? They can give an example of when this value was practiced and when it was challenged. This will help you determine if the person has lone wolf tendencies, which will not be valuable for your objective. Pay attention to how they answer the question and if they are using words like “I” and “me” v. “we” and “the team.”

Once you are clear on the traits you are looking for, you need to let the candidates know just how much you take these values seriously, how they play out in your company, and how people are held accountable. At the end of the interview, you can reiterate how serious you are about the values and how uncomfortable it will be to work at the company if they do not feel the same way. In fact, how much they are going to dislike the experience because the behaviors are so abundant that they would not be able to dodge them. Sending a strong message will allow them to select out if they are not a good fit because they do not genuinely possess these values. After all, finding the perfect candidate is not just what is best for the organization, but what is best for the candidate and the clearer the expectations are, the more they can make choices that will allow them to be in a position where they can do their best work in an environment that speaks to their values.

Quote of the day:I think the most important thing is just if you hire people whose personal values match the corporate core values — and not just the stated ones.” -Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

Q: What are the most important values that define your team and your organization? How can you assess this in potential candidates? Comment and share with us; we would love to hear!

[The next blog in this series 2/5 will focus on creating a successful hiring process]

As a Leadership Coach, I partner with leaders to get clarity on the hiring process to secure the best candidate, contact me to learn more.

Which values do you look for when hiring?

CEO and Founder at Next Levels Coaching Regina@nextlevelscoaching.com