Tag Archives: values

How to Create Interview Questions on Culture

As I walked through the entry way to the lobby, I noticed Miguel had posted the list of values in a cheap plastic frame next to the Mission Statement. I ducked into the conference room. Miguel sat up. “I know, I know,” he said. “At least it’s a start.”

I stared at him. “No impact. It’s not even a start!”

The rest of the management team huddled around, taking their places at the table. “Look,” I continued. “You have done a lot of work, but until you breathe some life into these values, communicate them as part of your culture, you might as well have stayed in bed.”

We worked the values list for thirty minutes, and in that short time, a series of ideas was constructed. There were details and accountabilities.

Hiring topped everyone’s list. That meant identifying behaviors connected with those values and constructing interview questions for those behaviors. We spent ten minutes brainstorming those questions. Interestingly, that ten minutes revealed more about the meaning of those values and how they would positively impact culture than any framed poster on the wall.

On teamwork, we asked ourselves, “How does a person behave, who values teamwork?” Then we constructed questions for those behaviors.

  • Tell me about a project you worked on, where teamwork was important?
  • What was the project?
  • How long was the project?
  • How many people on the team?
  • What was your role on the team?
  • What was the critical element in this project that made teamwork important?
  • When the team worked well together, what was happening?
  • When the team did not work well together, what was happening?
  • What did the team adjust to work better together?
  • What did you, personally, have to adjust to make the team work better together?

We amplified those questions by circulating an email copy to several other committees and groups in the company. We got lots of feedback and suggestions for more questions. Values are important, but you cannot interview for values, you can only interview for behaviors (connected to those values).

How to Connect Values to Behaviors

“It’s a good list,” said Miguel. The list had emerged from a values exercise the week before. After an extensive word pairing process, some heavy lobbying, push back, protest and negotiation, this was the list that made it.

“So, now you have a list,” I said. “What do you do with it?” Miguel’s eyes brightened, then his brow furrowed.

“I’m not sure. I guess we could print it out on fancy paper, frame it and put it on the wall next to the Mission Statement.”

I stared straight at Miguel. “Dude, you are going to have to do better than that.”

Miguel nodded in agreement.

“Get your team back together and take this to the next step. If you want to create a positive culture, you have to live by your values. Everything you do as a company should support these values. You have to identify the stories, the examples and the people. Then you have to amplify them. You have to amplify them in meetings, newsletters, memos and emails.

“Get your team together and figure it out. In what way can we communicate our values and the behaviors connected to those values to every person in the company. Frequently.”

How to Define Company Values

Twenty three people milled about the room. We had gathered together to talk about culture. Culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our behavior as we work together. With such a large group, from vice-presidents to managers to supervisors, we broke into six smaller groups so quick discussions could occur. The CEO was in the back of the room with strict instructions to simply listen.

“On the table, everyone grab a little stack of sticky notes. Please identify five values that you believe are important in guiding our behavior as the company works together. Write one value on a separate sticky note.” Within 90 seconds, most had completed the assignment. Each small group was given another 90 seconds to share their responses, to make sure each person had five sticky notes. We were three minutes into the meeting.

“We have a big white board up here. I know it will get noisy, but everyone stand and come stick your five values to the board. Once all the notes are on the board feel free to group all the duplicates together and then sit down.”

And so the room was thrown into chaos for a few minutes. In the end, 62 different values were represented on the board. Those 62 values were quickly and randomly rearranged into 31 pairs of words.

“This next step is like a double-elimination tournament for a softball game, only quicker. For each random pair, we are going to vote on which value best represents what we want for our collective culture. The winners will go on one side and the losers on the other. Then we will pair all the winners and pair all the losers. To get off the board, the value has to lose twice, so a losing value could earn its way back to the winner’s side of the board.”

The voting went quickly. As the selections went from 62 to 31, down to 12, we then broke into group discussions to get the last 12 down to six. Groups were allowed to advocate for their most important values. In the end, we had five values, with very clear understandings what behaviors were connected to each. The process had taken an hour and a half. Our next meeting was scheduled for the following week.

How to Build Intentional Culture

The management team was assembled in the conference room. Culture was the topic of the day.

“You can either try to get people on board with your culture, or you can build the culture that people want to get on board with. Which is it going to be?” I asked.

Since Miguel called this meeting, everyone looked at him. The silence worked its discomfort. I broke the group into teams of two. Erica’s team was the first out of the gate.

“I don’t think you can talk people into it. The culture has to make personal sense and they have to believe it is really true. People can smell a pig no matter how much lipstick is on it.”

“What do you mean, it has to make personal sense?”

“I mean the values of the company have to be close to the values of the person. If there is a conflict, either the company has to change or the person has to go find another company.”

“Do you think culture comes from values?” I continued to probe.

Erica wasn’t sure where this was going, but she had already stuck her neck out. “I think culture is the collected values of every person who is a member of the group. Culture is that unwritten set of rules that governs our behavior as we work together. It sets the expectation, creates the environment in which we work.”

“So, would you agree that the first conscious step toward a positive culture is to actively collect the values of each member of the group?” I stopped. “A little scary, perhaps. Until we collect the values, we can get away with ambiguity. Once we collect the values, there is no place to hide.”

You Can’t Interview for Attitude

“I get it,” Sara smiled. “I know, for someone to be a high performer, they have to value the work in the role. If they don’t place a high value on the work, it isn’t likely they will do a good job.”

“Not in the long run,” I confirmed. “In the short term, you can always bribe people with pizza, but once the pizza’s gone, you’re done.” (This is known as a diagnostic assessment.)

“I’m with you,” Sara nodded. “But how do you interview for values. I am afraid if I ask the question, straight up, I am going to get a textbook answer. The candidate is just going to agree with me.”

“Sara, when you are observing your team, watching them work, can you see their values?”

Sara stopped. “I think so, I mean, I can see enthusiasm. I can tell when someone is happy.”

“How can you tell?”

“I can just watch them,” she replied. “I can see it in their behavior.”

“Exactly. You cannot see a person’s values, you can only see their behavior. And that is what you interview for, their behavior. As a manager, just ask this question – How does a person with (this value) behave?”

Sara’s eyes narrowed. I continued.

“Let’s say that you have an accounting position and that accuracy, specifically with numbers is an important value.”

“You can’t ask them if they think accuracy is important. Of course, they will say – yes.”

I nodded. “As a manager, ask yourself this question. How does a person behave if they value accuracy in their work.”

“I know that one,” Sara jumped in. “I once asked our bookkeeper how she always balanced to the penny. She told me she always added things twice. People who value accuracy in their work always add things twice.”

“So, what question would you ask?” I pressed.

“Tell me about a time when accuracy was very important. How did you make sure you balanced to the penny?”
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