Understanding Workplace Values

Finding the Best Cultural Fit

Colorful stick men standing on job adverts.

Learn how to identify the workplace values of your team, and your new recruits.

© iStockphoto/alexsl

Your newest recruit, Brandon, has been working with your team for several weeks now, and you're wondering if you made a mistake in hiring him.

His workplace values are very different from those of your team, and from the values of your organization as a whole.

Your core team members care passionately about doing work that helps others. They value teamwork, and they're always willing to pitch in or stay late if someone is behind on an important deadline. This has led to a culture of trust, friendliness, and mutual respect within the team.

Brandon, on the other hand, wants to climb the corporate ladder. He's ambitious and ruthless, and he wants to focus on projects that will either build his expert status or achieve a public win. The problem is that his core career values clash with the core values of your team. This divide is causing infighting and bad feeling within the group.

We all have our own workplace values. And, while you can't always make sure that each person's values are perfectly aligned, you can try to hire people who fit. In this article, we'll look at how you can better recognize and understand these values – the attitudes that "make them tick."

The Importance of Workplace Values

Your workplace values are the guiding principles that are most important to you about the way that you work. You use these deeply held principles to choose between right and wrong ways of working, and they help you make important decisions and career choices.

Some (possibly conflicting) examples of workplace values include:

  • Being accountable.
  • Making a difference.
  • Focusing on detail.
  • Delivering quality.
  • Being completely honest.
  • Keeping promises.
  • Being reliable.
  • Being positive.
  • Meeting deadlines.
  • Helping others.
  • Being a great team member.
  • Respecting company policy and rules, and respecting others.
  • Showing tolerance.

Your organization's workplace values set the tone for your company's culture, and they identify what your organization, as a whole, cares about. It's important that your people's values align with these.

When this happens, people understand one another, everyone does the right things for the right reasons, and this common purpose and understanding helps people build great working relationships. Values alignment helps the organization as a whole to achieve its core mission.

When values are out of alignment, people work towards different goals, with different intentions, and with different outcomes. This can damage work relationships, productivity, job satisfaction, and creative potential.

The most important thing that you need to do when interviewing someone is understand his or her workplace values. After all, you can train people to cover skills gaps, and you can help people gain experience. But it's really hard to get people to change their values; and they will be "problem workers" until they do.

How to Identify Important Workplace Values

Before you learn how to identify the values of others, make sure that you understand your own values. For example, does meeting a project deadline take priority over delivering exceptional work?

Once you have a thorough understanding of the values that are most important to you (see this article   for a list), you can better understand and identify others' values. Your goal in identifying these is to raise awareness and encourage good behavior and habits.

Start by talking with your most respected team members about the workplace values that they feel are important. Ask them to brainstorm   the values that they believe are most prevalent among good performers, and list these on a whiteboard or flip chart for them to see.

Once they have come up with their ideas, work together to cut the list down to the five most important workplace values.

Next, discuss how people demonstrate these values every day. How do they make these values come to life? And how can you encourage more of these behaviors?

You can also talk to team members one-on-one to get a better idea of their workplace values, coach them to explore beliefs and values  , or simply study their behavior. For instance, team members might say that they value teamwork, but it's the people who stay late to help a colleague who actually demonstrate this.

Also, check your employee handbook or rule book. Organizations often list their values in these documents. Pay a lot of attention to these.

You can also identify organizational values by looking at how people work within the company, and by looking at the actions that the organization has taken over the last few years.

How to Understand People's Workplace Values

To create a cohesive team, you need to identify people who will fit best with its culture and values.

Ask Focused Interview Questions

When you're interviewing potential team members, do what you can to identify their workplace values – this is usually the most important thing that you need to explore at interview. There are several ways to do this.

First, ask questions focused around your own organization's workplace values. For instance, imagine that you want to find a team member who, among other values, is highly tolerant of other cultures.

You could ask questions like these:

  • "Describe a time when you had to work with a wide variety of people. How did you go about identifying and understanding their points of view? How did you adapt your own working style to work more effectively with these people? What was the outcome?"
  • "Has there ever been a time when your beliefs clashed with someone else's on your team? If so, how did you overcome these differences?"

These questions encourage interviewees to open up about how they approach these issues. See our article on structuring interview questions   for more on this.

Use Role-Playing Scenarios

When you're interviewing a new recruit, use techniques such as role-playing  , or an Inbox/In-tray Assessment   to see a potential hire in action.

Set up scenarios or problems that are subtly centered around the workplace values that you're looking for. People in role-playing scenarios have to think on their feet, which means that it's difficult for them to adjust their behaviors to the ones they think you want to see. This means that you're more likely to get an accurate look at how they would behave in your team.

Look at Past Work History

You also need to look at the potential recruit's past work history. Examine the organization that they worked at previously to identify any possible clash in values (this might be most obvious if they've worked with a well-known competitor).

Keep in mind that while most people can be coached to adapt to a new working culture, some professionals will find it hard to shift their priorities. Deeper values may be very hard to change.

Use Psychometric Tests

Psychometric tests are useful for measuring the values and beliefs of potential hires, because they're standardized. Recruits can't simply tell you what they think you want to hear. Instead, they must answer questions that will point to their deepest values, beliefs, and motivating factors. You can use tests such as The California Psychological Inventory (CPI™) to identify many aspects of an individual's interpersonal experience, values, and feelings.

Tip:

Our Recruiting Skills Bite-Sized Training session helps you design jobs, write job adverts, and ask interview questions that attract people with the right values. Click here to access it.

Key Points

Workplace values drive the attitudes and behaviors that you want to see within your team. These values might include respecting others, keeping promises, showing personal accountability, or providing excellent customer service.

It's important to identify and understand the workplace values of successful team members, so that you can select new recruits who share these values.

When interviewing new recruits, ask focused interview questions, use role-playing scenarios and tools, look at past history, and use psychometric tests to find the recruits with the best cultural fit.

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