It’s never been more important for your company to refine its core values. With competition for top talent heating up, these values will make or break your recruiting and retention efforts. They’ll help determine who is attracted to your jobs and, if your values are authentically grounded in your company’s culture, they’ll help ensure your new recruits will be valuable team members for a long time. 

In fact, employees who fit well with their organization, coworkers, and supervisor have greater job satisfaction, are more likely to remain with their organization, and show superior job performance. The price of attracting employees who don’t fit your core values is equally impressive. The result of turnover due to poor culture fit can cost an organization between 50-60 percent of the person’s annual salary.

But here’s the rub: Your company’s core values don’t need to be pie-in-the-sky altruistic to recruit and retain top talent. They just need to be honest. In fact, the more potentially phony “we want to save the world” values veer from your company culture, the worse your retention will be. It won’t take long for new recruits to feel duped and start looking elsewhere for a job that’s truly the right fit. 

As VMWare’s Jessica Amortegui explains in Fast Company, “For companies to truly close the chasm between their stated and lived values, they must enter the human psyche to extract excellence from the inside-out, not dictate it from outside-in. This requires organizations to pivot their approach: rather than get people to live the values, they should focus on the values that live in the people.” 

Why Even Polarizing Values Work

The book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman perfectly explains this way of thinking. In the book, Wickman states, “It doesn’t matter what your core values are as much as it does that you’ve clearly defined, communicated, and are living them as an organization. Only then can you truly surrounding yourself with the people who will prepare your organization for growth.”

Under Armour tells candidates, “Everyone that we hire has one thing in common: They have a spirit that never gives up. They are excited to go beyond the average. And they are ready to learn new things to create the unexpected. If you have this drive, then no matter your experience level or background, you’ll find a place here at Under Armour.”

Amazon takes a different approach to core values. Its vision statement is “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” And its self-published leadership principals include values like customer obsession, stating that Amazon leaders “start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.”

Will the same type of candidate be equally drawn to both companies? No. And that’s not a bad thing. Under Armour is seeking unapologetic competitors while Amazon aims to attract leaders who are unquenchable public servants. While both companies seek trailblazers at the top of their game, the motivation behind the quest to innovate is much different. That central motivation is where your core values hide and it’s exactly where your recruiting and retention efforts will fail or succeed. 

At recruitAbility, we worked hard to develop core values that truly reflect our corporate culture. Doing so hasn’t only help us with recruiting and retention, but it helps us develop the most advantageous business relationships across the board. In a nutshell, we don’t have time for drama; we apply transparency and accountability to every we do, and we play to win. 

These core values resonate with some potential candidates, employees, clients and vendors and, with others, they don’t. That’s OK with us. If a potential candidate or stakeholder reads through our simple, straight-forward core values and doesn’t nod their head vigorously in agreement, they likely aren’t a good fit for us. Acknowledging that from the start of a relationship provides solid ground on which to move forward.

How to Define Core Values for Yourself

In addition to Wickman’s Traction, business leaders interested in defining strong core values can benefit from understanding Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Concept from another classic business book, Good to Great

The Hedgehog Concept will prompt you to investigate how your company intersects within the following three dimensions:

  • What can you be the best in the world at?
  • What drives your economic engine?
  • What are you deeply passionate about?

Uncovering the answers can be a painful but enlightening endeavor and Collins reminds readers along the way that “a Hedgehog Concept is not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at. The distinction is absolutely crucial.”  

What too many companies do, even when following Good to Great strategies like the Hedgehog Concept, is to base their values on aspirations rather than reality. The two aspects must be married to create core values that employees can trust and believe in. How do you know if your core values fall short of representing who your company is right now? Measuring your turnover is one way. Low retention rates can signal a disconnect in what you “sell” candidates versus the actual day-to-day reality for your employees. 

In their book IGNITE: Setting Your Organization’s Culture on Fire With Innovation, David J. Neff and Randal C. Moss recommend evaluating an organization’s culture using a method coined by organizational development expert Edgar H. Schein. Schein identifies three levels of culture that provide clues into an organization’s true values: artifacts (visible organizational structures and processes like employee handbooks), espoused beliefs and values (strategies, goals and philosophies—things usually outlined in your company’s “about us” page on your website) and underlying assumptions (unconscious beliefs, perceptions, thoughts and feelings—how employees have learned to act and react in certain situations). 

The process Neff and Moss outline includes a half-day exercise in observing and documenting the different artifacts, beliefs and assumptions that are present within an organization. Perhaps the most crucial step in their process is to take a few minutes to informally talk to the newest individuals in your office (which may be an intern). Ask them what they think are the top five unmentioned elements of your culture that they uniformly obey (these would be their perceived underlying assumptions). Their answers may be very surprising. And, if they are, you have a lot of work to do when it comes to reconciling your core values with your corporate culture. 

In the end, it’s critically important to put your best face forward when it comes to defining your core values and using them to recruit and retain the best of the best. But be sure it’s YOUR best face that you reveal. Hide behind a mask of meaningless words and empty promises and your efforts are sure to fail. 

Nad Elias

CEO- recruitAbility