Values are not so passé

Often misunderstood and underestimated, values are preferences and priorities that reflect what’s most important to an individual. Adrianna Loveday outlines why values never went out of vogue.

Values are not so passé

Often misunderstood and underestimated, values are preferences and priorities that reflect what’s most important to an individual. Adrianna Loveday outlines why values never went out of vogue.

There is no disputing what every employee in the 21st century wants. Regardless of where they are positioned in the organisational hierarchy, they want to find as much fulfilment as they can through their work, whether this is on a physical, emotional, mental or spiritual level. It is this intrinsic desire to reach one’s maximum potential that will, above all else, motivate employees at work.

Often misunderstood and underestimated, values are preferences and priorities that reflect what’s most important to an individual. They make meaning possible and provide us with the motivation to act. Research has shown there are over 100 values that we may draw upon to live our lives.

Those who are conscious of their highest priority values are more fulfilled in their personal and professional spheres.

In the workplace, values are ubiquitous. They indicate what is most important to each employee and form the basis of the organisational culture. They are closely reflected in all our behaviours at work and according to research, provide the basis for our decisions, more so than rational analysis.

According to the 2012 Randstad Award employer branding research, out of the top five most important factors for an individual when choosing to work for an organisation, four — job security, employee benefits, strong workplace culture, and interesting role content & job satisfaction — are inextricably linked to one’s value framework. Therefore, it would be remiss of any organisation to ignore the importance of values as a critical part of their employer branding strategy: they are one of the strongest ways to reach out to their potential existing workforce individually.

Why values alignment is in vogue

It’s a compelling fact that organisations who do not have core values will find it increasingly difficult to attract and retain talent. But having these values alone is not enough: for an organisation to reap the benefits of a strong set of core values, these values must truly resonate with each individual, which requires the organisation to be expert at articulating and communicating them efficiently in their Employer Value Proposition.

What organisations often fail to realise is that personal values such as safety, security and honesty will always override organisational values. Thus, the alignment of personal and organisational values is key to any organisation achieving their desired outcomes.

Interestingly, research shows when organisational and employee values are aligned, the result is typically a more productive and innovative environment, where managers are more effective as they have taken the time to understand what their employees want and how to provide it. They are therefore in a good position to effectively drive their employer brand strategy throughout the organisation. On the contrary, organisations that lack this alignment are often described as backward, bureaucratic, and where management find it harder to hire and retain talented people.

Hiring for “values fit”

To align personal and organisational values, it might be useful to simply go back to basics. Business leaders should regularly ask themselves these simple questions: As an individual, when did I last evaluate my own priority values? As a leader, when did I last consider the values of my existing people and those that predict success in my team?

Values are deep rooted feelings about what is important to someone; they are mostly submerged below the surface, and are not as visible as personality characteristics, technical skills or experience. It is thus not unusual for a hiring manager to overlook values as an important predictor of the potential ‘fit’ of a candidate during the selection process. Yet values are also more stable, enduring and difficult to change than behaviours. The implication of this is simple: if you hire someone whose values are mismatched to those of the organisation, it will be hard to shift their thinking and will prove difficult to retain them beyond the honeymoon period.

Studies have also shown that an employee’s preference for a particular organisation and their subsequent tenure are, surprisingly, far more strongly influenced by their values than by their personality. And yet, as HR professionals and employers of choice, we often emphasise the importance of a good ‘personality fit’ when we are attracting candidates. Perhaps we should be placing more emphasis on a ‘values fit’? The smartest organisations tend to acknowledge the importance of both personality and value characteristics, and consider this duality in action for hiring, management and retention purposes.

Yes, we can measure values

Regardless of how advanced an organisation’s human resource practices are, organisations that are serious about looking beyond behaviour for clues as to individual/culture fit need to master the art of values identification. On the one hand, this can be a complex process that requires measurement to be robust, objective, universally applicable, and capable of distinguishing values from emotions, morals, behaviours, virtues and ethics. On the other hand, it can be a simple process of asking value-based questions in addition to behaviour-based ones during the interview process — “describe your values in action” type probing could be a simple and cost-effective way to take your selection process to the next level.

Values are at the core of any organisational culture.

Yet, many employers still pay little more than lip service to them, and rarely go further than gathering senior managers once every two years to write company values out on butchers paper and announce them to their staff. Ultimately, organisations that operate with their values in a deliberate and organised manner and are able to effectively articulate and communicate them to their staff create a distinct advantage for themselves over their competitors. In a tight job market where candidates are less afraid to ask for exactly what they want, this will truly maximise organisations’ employer value proposition. At the same time, it will send a strong message to their current workforce, who ultimately remains their best brand ambassadors in the market.


About the author

Adrianna Loveday is the organisational psychologist of Randstad's specialist HR Consulting division

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