This article is an excerpt from Jack Altman’s book, People Strategy: How to Invest in People and Make Culture Your Competitive Advantage.
The first step to building a successful People Strategy is, well, finding the right people. But finding the right people isn’t just a matter of finding the most talented employees; it’s about finding talented employees who share in the company’s mission and can add to its culture.
Bringing this kind of talent together is the foundation of a strong organizational culture. But while some of that culture forms organically, fostering a culture in which all employees are aligned and working toward a shared mission requires intentionality – particularly in our current landscape, with many companies navigating uncertainty and more employees working remotely.
We’ve already talked about how establishing strong, authentic, and actionable company values is an important first step in this. Now that you have those values, it’s important to give them the high importance that the term “values” implies by integrating them into every aspect of your organization, including your hiring process.
Making Values a Part of Hiring
Daniel Chait, co-founder and CEO of the recruiting platform Greenhouse, likes to talk about the importance of reinforcing company values in the hiring process. If a company only pays lip service to its principles, he told me once, interviewers will not make them a priority when they talk to job candidates.
“If they know the person is going to show up and not really get evaluated on the values, and that it’s really just about their coding or their sales, then they’re going to kind of fake it through the interview process,” Chait said. To ensure that those values are fully integrated into the hiring process, those who are most representative of them should be involved in the hiring process, from designing the job description to interviewing. “The whole process should be influenced by the people who best represent the values you hold.”
Employers should use company values to find not just good employees, but employees who are a good fit for the company – for its culture and mission. The values that a company projects are akin to the Bat Signal, drawing in prospective employees not just looking for a paycheck, but to help the company realize its vision.
1. Start by making values part of job descriptions.
Include company values in job descriptions for open roles to entice applicants who both align with the company’s culture and who can add to it. In any hiring climate, but especially one in which competition for talent is high, it can be challenging to bring in and retain the best employees when hiring managers struggle to articulate company values to prospective employees. This makes it more important than ever to differentiate based on values and mission. After all, even the most talented individuals can be misplaced or fail to realize their full potential if the values are misaligned. Building job descriptions around company values can help define both the job and the type of applicant you are seeking.
For example, take this job listing for a Product Designer position we had open at Lattice:
We’re a small and impactful team of product engineers continuously working to improve our product and our craft. We use a modern, cutting-edge tech stack and love experimenting with new technologies to create our products. We are really excited to find a person that has the experience and ability to own our infrastructure and improve our development experience.
About the Role
You’re a Product Designer and you’re sure of your process. You have been at it for 3+ years and enjoy sharing your knowledge with your fellow teammates. Research isn’t just a buzzword to you, it’s a constant state of learning about your customers. You over-invest in the visual and interaction portion of your work and consider yourself a craftsperson. Everything is your problem. You care about why you’re building something, not just what you’re building. You consider the technical, product, and business needs of the company with each decision. You’re based in San Francisco or are willing to relocate, and you are eligible to work in the United States.
Because our team is small, you’ll be given lots of responsibility and opportunities to impact the overall product and business. You’ll work with the team to build product-defining features as well as be a decision maker in what direction we take the product.
• You’ll collaborate with Product, Engineering, and Customer Success to help identify the needs of our customers, prioritize our efforts, tirelessly iterate, and ship world-class solutions.
• You’ll socialize the design process to non-product functions.
• You’ll embody our principles.
• You’ll push our visual and interaction execution further.
Nice to Haves
• Strong portfolio of high-quality visual and interaction design execution
• Prior experience designing for desktop platforms and data visualization
• Prior experience in People Management software or SaaS companies
• Comfortable working independently and elevating design thinking
• Ability to work within our established frameworks and contribute to them
• Previous experience working on design teams
• We invest in the personal and professional growth of every employee because we believe growth leads to both business impact and personal fulfillment
• The opportunity to join an experienced and ambitious team that is passionate about solving customers’ needs and loves coming to work every day
• Partner with 1,500+ companies around the world to make sure their employees are engaged and performing at a high level
Implicit in this job description are our values. Phrases like “everything is your problem” and “you care about why you’re building something, not just what you’re building” allude to our values of personal responsibility (Ship, Shipmate, Self) and focusing on the process over the outcome (Chop Wood, Carry Water). Simply having the right skills is not enough on its own to ensure success in a role; the person you hire must be the right fit for the company.
2. Emphasize values in the interview process.
The interview process is an opportunity to determine if a prospective employee matches the values outlined in the job description and, therefore, will make a good addition to the team. Interviewing a potential new hire is something of an art. The goal is to elicit openness from the job candidate, which can be difficult – both for the interviewer and the interviewee. After all, it’s not a setting that lends itself naturally to openness. It can be nerve-wracking for all parties involved. Both the employer and the prospective employee want to make a good impression. And each is trying to figure out the other, attempting to gauge if this is where the applicant belongs.
The key is to ask open-ended questions. Just as the job description above nods at our company values without explicitly stating them, the questions we ask in an interview are crafted to assess fit without tacitly coaching the employee to tell us what we want to hear.
Rather than running down the list of your company values and asking the potential hire to give examples of each, ask broader questions of the interviewee, getting the applicant to demonstrate their values rather than list them as part of a stock answer to a stock question like, “So, what are your values?” For example, if one of your values is “Ownership,” ask candidates for an example of a time when they took the fall when a project went awry. To hammer this home with the interviewers within your company, consider incorporating values into your interview scorecards as well.
The goal is to determine both if the prospective hire’s values align with those of the company and if they will also bring something unique to the company’s culture. Indeed, a good “fit” not only reflects the company culture but adds to it.
“[We’re] hopefully evolving and improving with every new hiring class,” Box CEO and cofounder Aaron Levie told me once. “You want to be learning from new employees as well as more tenured ones.” It’s incredibly powerful when the right person gets into the right role – when a person is both meeting the company’s needs and the company is meeting theirs, so there is a perfect symbiosis between the two.
How the Right “Fit” Can Evolve
Of course, company culture is not a static thing. Companies, like people, evolve and change over time. Sometimes, that change can be a consequence of larger forces – the way, for instance, that the COVID-19 pandemic forced many companies and their employees to adapt to remote work and changed the way workers communicate, collaborate, and connect. But these changes do not always take place on such a large scale.
Early on at Lattice, we had an extremely talented salesperson. He was a major contributor, liked by everyone at the company, and understood our business inside and out. He was easily one of our best hires. But after a great year or so, things began to change. Our business was growing up, and the needs of each job were changing dramatically. He seemed to lose interest, and as time went on, the enthusiasm and energy that made him so successful began to dry up.
Rather than adapting to the new needs of our business, he remained in the old mold and was unable – or unwilling – to adapt. As his performance declined, he started looking out for himself at the expense of his teammates and the business. In short, he was not chopping wood and carrying water, not putting his ship and shipmates ahead of himself, and not looking ahead to what’s next. Fortunately, he did have clear eyes. He recognized that his values and the company no longer aligned, and we parted ways amicably.
Now, was this person a bad hire, just because he left the company? Of course not. A fit can change over time. Maybe a company’s values evolve. Maybe an employee’s values do. Either way, such evolution is something that companies should embrace. For example, I remember leaving Teespring with the vision of starting something that was a better fit for me and knowing that the best ideas spark when we push ourselves toward an idea that fits us better.
We wanted to give the same opportunities to our employees at Lattice, and that’s why at Lattice we created the Invest in Your People Fund, setting aside money to invest in our employees who go on to start their own companies. The employee-job fit is vital to satisfaction and productivity; without it, an employee most often isn’t motivated to bring their whole self to work. Similarly, the employer-employee relationship isn’t just about satisfying the needs of the company; it’s also about meeting the professional needs of the employee. Unfortunately for both employees and companies, work has too often been seen as an arduous and unpleasant reality of life – something we trudge our way through to get from one weekend to the next.
But work doesn’t have to be a drag. It could be our ikigai; that is, our reason for getting out of bed in the morning. This Japanese concept sits at the axis of four elements: a person’s passion, their skill set, a need in the world, and compensation. An ideal employee-employer fit will provide that ikigai. I always hope that Lattice can fulfill that fit for our employees, but sometimes we just don’t – and that’s okay.
When that’s the case, we want to be there to support them emotionally, tactically, and financially. My biggest goal, personally and for Lattice, has always been to make work meaningful. People are a company’s most important asset, and the goal is to get great people into your organization, set them up to be as successful as they can be, and keep them happy.
Companies put a lot of strategic planning into creating clear go-to-market and product strategies each year. Why aren't we doing the same for defining our People strategy? It’s critical that executives and HR leaders not only plan how our companies will engage with employees but also how they will achieve their goals.
Over the years working with thousands of companies, Lattice has learned what it means to be a people-centric company. In People Strategy, we want to give executives, HR leaders, and even managers a framework for transforming their company into one that's people-centric, building and maintaining a healthy culture of high performance.
If you want to learn more about how Lattice can help enable all these important People Strategy practices at your company, book a Lattice demo to see our products and platform in action.