I had a realization, towards the end of my last job, about company values. What are company values (aka "Core Values")? Well, here are some examples: Zappos
. My former company had 10:
1. Everyone deserves a Cinderella Experience
2. Dream big and go after it!
3. Make the most with what you have...scrappiness is a virtue
4. Debating, honest conversations and collaborating make the company stronger
5. Happiness and positivity is a choice
6. Embrace the RTR family and bring your authentic self into the office each day
7. Bring your best intentions to everything and trust that others do the same
8. Adapt and learn from everything you do
9. Roll up your sleeves and get involved. Everyone should be accessible and involved with the day to day elements of RTR
10.We are all founders of Rent The Runway
When I first started, I was skeptical about the purpose of Core Values. Zappos, the most famous advocate of this concept, seemed a bit weird. I am not a conformist, and I felt like expecting a diverse group of people to embrace the same set of values and beliefs was a bit Orwellian.
What changed my mind? As part of the company review process, we would ask people to mention ways in which their peers embraced the core values. One person might write, for example, "When Jane suggested we try this crazy experiment to increase the performance of our product page, she encouraged us to dream big and go after it." You weren't required to spell out how each person met every value, just give one or two instances where they had met them.
Is it a good idea to use values as part of the performance review process? Well, for better or worse, one of the things that indicates success within a company is how well a person is capable of working within the culture of that company. This can be a bad thing, when the culture of the company is confused with the color of the company, the gender of the company, the background of the people in the company. That is not a very specific culture, and it is likely to cause bias that does not actually serve to reduce the collaboration issues that you might worry about in heterogenous groups. When company values are more explicit, however, they give you something that is (hopefully) less correlated with how people look and more correlated with how people communicate, make decisions, and behave.
I wrote, read, and delivered many reviews, always involving a section on values. I also observed many "core value stories," where employees would stand up and tell about another person or group who went above and beyond and how that tied back to some of our core values. I got to see over and over again examples of people exhibiting these values and the ways they presented themselves.
At some point, I realized there was a pattern. The people in the company who were beloved by all, happiest in their jobs, and arguably most productive, were the people who showed up for all of these values. They may not have been the people who went to the best schools, or who wrote the most beautiful code, in fact they often weren't the "on-paper" superstars. But when it came to the job, they were great, highly in-demand, and usually promoted quickly. They didn't all look the same, they didn't all work in the same team or have the same skillset. Their only common thread was that they didn't have to stretch too much to live the company values, because the company values overlapped with their own personal values.
What's the takeaway here? Well, we often talk about "culture." By now, we know that beer and ping pong tables aren't culture. Many of us fear that "culture" can be a dog whistle for "people who look like me." And yet, people are more likely to be successful and happy if they are in a company with a culture that matches their values. My experience has led me to conclude that looking for the values of your company as part of your interviewing process is probably at least as important as the technical and skills screening, in finding the best employees.
Why is this post called Framing?
The way you ask people to look for values is going to make a big difference in what they look for, and what they see. You might have 10 values, as RTR did. Would you really want to ask every interviewer for a "yes/no" on all 10? Probably not. But if you boiled that question down to "culture fit", do you think the interviewers are going to think about the company values? Or are they going to think about whether this person looks like them, talks like them, is "a person they could get a beer with?" The way you frame the question of culture is important, and if you aren't explicit, people may skip over the details and go with their bias.
If you agree with me that values are valuable, I encourage you to put them in your interview process, and make them explicit. Don't ask for "culture fit", list the values and ask people to mention any they noticed the person definitely meeting or definitely not meeting. Prime the interviewers beforehand with the list of values, so they know what to look for. And then, let me know how it goes! Because this is still theoretical for me, and I would love to hear your experience, as well as any counterpoints to what I have suggested.