Why values fit is the key contributor to culture fit

Atlassian, IKEA, Netflix, Google – when it comes to recruitment, these leading companies all have something in common: they look for a values fit in their future team members.

They are not the only ones. Companies from all industries are doubling down on values-based recruitment to hire people who match their company values and will therefore contribute to the long-term success of the organisation.

Research by LinkedIn revealed that it experienced a 154% increase in job ads mentioning culture and values from 2020 to 2022.

So, why should we place values as a central pillar of recruitment? And is culture fit still valid?

The true value of values

Values describe things such as how we behave, our motivators, and how we make decisions.

The Values Project in Australia defines values as “motivational life goals that are not context specific.”

They are established throughout one’s life as a result of accumulating life experiences (Lusk & Oliver, 1974) and our environment. Values are deeply ingrained in us and, as such, tend to be relatively stable (Rokeach, 1973)

As co-founder of the Museum of Values, Jan Stassen explains, “Values define how we want to continue to live.”

He refers to them as “situation independent decision helpers” because no matter what context we are in, we will always try to stick to our values.

As outlined by The Values Project, all values are desirable goals and reflect what we see as worthwhile to pursue, such as:

  • Achievement motivates us to promote personal success according to social standards; it emphasises ambition and demonstrating competence.
  • Self-direction motivates us to promote independent thought and action; it emphasises freedom, exploration, and creativity.
  • Power motivates us to promote social status and control over people and resources; it emphasises social power, wealth, and authority.

In the workplace, values are ubiquitous. They point to what is most important to each employee and form the basis of the organisational culture. Our values are closely reflected through our behaviours and, according to research, provide the basis for our decisions more than rational analysis.

In other words, our values drive how we act and communicate in the workplace. This makes them the greatest predictor of how someone will contribute to an organisation and move in their career.

What is values-based recruitment? 

Values-based recruitment (VBR) is a framework that uses values to evaluate whether the candidate’s priorities and behaviours align with the organisation’s.

As Google, one of the most well-known advocates of a values-based approach, states on its careers page:

“Your skills, interests, and goals are the result of your life, your experiences, your triumphs, and your failures. If we hire you based on your skills, we’ll get a skilled employee. If we hire you based on your skills, and your enduring passions, and your distinct experiences and perspectives, we’ll get a Googler. That’s what we want.”

For values-based recruitment to succeed, recruiters first need to understand the leader’s and the organisation’s values before interviewing candidates against them.

Leadership expert and author Simon Sinek says values describe how companies should operate:

“True values are how you act when you are at your natural best. They’re not descriptive of things you want to be — they’re about things you intend to do. For example, “It’s not ‘Innovation.’ It’s ‘Look at the problem from a different angle.’”

Here at Occulus, we use our proprietary process to understand the organisation’s and its leaders’ value system before we start interviewing candidates.

Culture fit vs values fit: What’s the difference?

While there is an overlap between the two concepts, values fit and culture fit have some distinct differences. 

Aubrey Blanche of Atlassian explained to Fast Company in 2016 how “values fit” is a slight but meaningful iteration on culture fit:

“Shifting our focus from ‘culture fit’ to ‘values fit’ helps us hire people who share our goals, not necessarily our viewpoints or backgrounds.”

Let us explain.

One of the biggest differences between culture fit and values fit is the role of bias. Culture is a feeling where values are constant and measurable. This means that putting too much emphasis on cultural fit heightens the risk of conscious and unconscious bias. Hiring managers can mistake familiarity and personal preferences for culture, leading to a homogenised workplace.

Employing only people who fit together doesn’t necessarily make a great, innovative company. Organisations need different types of people to create a vibrant culture.

On the other hand, a values fit model can use metrics that reduce the impact of bias on the recruitment process. It can also lead to diversity and the benefits that come with it. An increasing number of studies have validated that cognitive diversity – aka diversity of thinking – yields more creativity, faster problem-solving, and greater productivity.

Another critical difference is the constant nature of values. While the standards for culture may change depending on the recruiter, time or circumstances, values will never be compromised.

The enduring nature of values has another important implication for recruitment. Because values are difficult to change, if you hire someone whose values are mismatched to the organisation’s, it will be hard to shift their thinking and will prove challenging to retain them in the long term.

Furthermore, a recruiter’s values are equally important as they determine the values they can see in the candidates they are interviewing. If the recruiter’s values don’t align with the leader’s and company’s values, this can be a costly mistake as they will apply their own values-bias.

Measuring values fit 

We have discussed how values are deep-rooted feelings about what is important to someone; they are not as visible as personality characteristics, skills or experience.

Therefore, to measure values fit in the recruitment process, we need to ask specific, deliberate and probing interview questions designed to understand the candidate’s life beyond their career.

At Occulus, our value-based interviews deep-dive to understand the candidate’s environment from childhood to adulthood. That’s because studies show how our childhood environments impact our values as adults. For example, a study published in Child Development found that the type of emotional support that a child receives during the first three and a half years affects their education, social life and romantic relationships as much as 30 years later.

We explore beyond the candidate’s career. If we only talk about work, even if we explore a wide range of work-based scenarios, we cannot form a clear picture of what matters to the candidate, what motivates them and how they make decisions.

With every response, we must listen closely to the stories they tell. How are they communicating through each period? What language is being used? By analysing the specific words, we can get a sense of them as a human being.

Painting the whole picture

Does all this mean we should discard culture fit for values when recruiting? No.

At Occulus, we have moved our focus to analyse the candidate’s ‘fit’ across four layers: 

  • Values fit – are the candidate’s values aligned with the values of the organisation, leader and its current employees?
  • Environment fit – will the candidate fit into the established work environment of the organisation?
  • Culture fit – will the candidate contribute to the culture of the organisation?
  • Skills / leadership fit – does the candidate have the skills, knowledge and competencies to succeed in the role?

Each stage of our hiring process is designed to assess the fit from various perspectives, creating a holistic approach.

Talk to us about our proprietary process to learn how it’s designed to find the best values fit for your organisation. 

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