The ‘Values’ Bit in Values-based Recruitment

Jackie Le Fevre and Helen Sanderson
I thought values were principles, and I didn’t think that they mattered much until I met Jackie Le Fevre. I met her through a Twitter connection who suggested I talk to her after a comment I made about values. I messaged her.  Talk about passion for your subject combined with almost encyclopaedic knowledge! Jackie is a leading expert in values, and within the year she became a National Advisor for Wellbeing Teams, helping us to define and live our values. I never called them principles again.
She invited me to discover what my top 10 values are using the Minessence Framework.
It was a boring 20 minutes doing an online questionnaire on a less-than-exciting website. Jackie later explained that that is intentional, as you want a ‘gut’ response rather than an intellectual response to questions, and repeating questions in different ways helps to achieve this. Like all good research, it told me what I suspected already but with a sprinkling of surprises, too. My top value was ‘pioneering’. Later, when we repeated this exercise with the national team, we found that I am the only person without ‘play’ in my top 10 values. No surprise there. I am working on that now (yes, I get the irony of ‘working on’ play).
 
In the health and care sector, talk of being ‘values based’ abounds: values-based recruitment, values-based leadership, values-based coaching, values-based strategic planning—it seems that lots of organisations are now doing ‘it’ and that ‘it’ is the thing to do. So that’s great—isn’t it?
 
When considering the values that underpin Wellbeing Teams, we wanted to make sure we understood them and to separate the truth from the hype. For this blog, I asked Jackie to describe the thinking behind the ‘values’ within values-based recruitment. Over to her.
 
It is true that every organisation, every group, and every individual human has values. It is also true that values are highly significant in every decision that is made, be it individually or collectively. For employers, they inform decisions such as what to emphasise in the job advert, which questions to pose in the selection process, and who to appoint at the end of the day; for potential employees, they determine how best to respond the advert, what to ask of the panel, and ultimately whether to accept the offer of a new job. Either way, our values play a pivotal role in determining behaviour.
  
However, is it also true that everyone can give us an accurate explanation of which values are at work in their thinking? Or that they can explain how those values have shaped the results that we see? Not so much, unfortunately. As I said in the introduction, you often hear words like ‘beliefs’ ‘morals’ ‘ethics’ and ‘principles’ being used and jumbled up with ‘values’, which makes trying to understand what’s actually going on very difficult indeed.
 
Here we encounter a problem of both meaning and consciousness.
 
The problem of meaning 
 
What are ‘values’ anyway?
Academics talk about ‘abstract ideas’ that represent concepts about ideal end states (Rokeach 1979) or desirable behaviours that transcend specific situations (Schwartz 1992). In everyday terms, values represent what is most important to us in life by shaping our personal preferences and priorities.  
 
Values are not:
 
  •   Morals – our adopted viewpoints on what is right and wrong
  •   Ethics – an agreed upon code of behaviour within a group (often based on collective morals)
or
  •   Principles – basic rules or natural laws which explain how things work (think Archimedes Principle)
Values do have a strong relationship with beliefs, which are things about which we are highly certain and so treat as true or real. Based on what we are highly certain about (beliefs) we prefer and prioritise certain ideas (values) about what to do and how to be (behaviour) in order to achieve the outcomes we seek. Having clarity about what we mean when we talk about ‘values’ in general, and being specific about what values we base our recruitment/selection/coaching/leadership on, is vital for these processes to work effectively.
 
The problem of consciousness
 
A simple model can be applied to whole organisations, small teams, or individual people including ourselves. Consider this problem as somewhat akin to an iceberg: all that we observe of others (and all they observe of us) is ‘behaviour’ which is made up of what is done—the action—and how that thing is done—the attitude. 
This piece of our iceberg is above the water line and, in general, is all we have to go on in an effort to understand the bigger picture.
 
Both beliefs and values lie deep within the unconscious.
 
From what we see done, and the manner in which it is done, we form opinions about the nature of the individual or group performing an action. What we cannot see is the driver of that behaviour—the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’, or the stuff below the water.
 
Values are energy-laden ideas that sit in the limbic system of the brain where there is no language. The limbic functions in terms of what it feels rather than what it ‘thinks’ or ‘knows’. Together, our beliefs and values function as a kind of background operating system. This gives us an internal, ‘autopilot’ sense of how the world works and where we fit in and enables us to develop our own shorthand ways of navigating everyday events. It would be highly inefficient, for example, to have to figure out from scratch how to greet colleagues each morning.
 
You have probably noticed that in different workplaces, there are different rituals for how the morning starts. Some workplaces are quite low key and calm: everyone gets their own
individual brew and focuses on the task at hand with very little informal interaction. Other workplaces are noisy and sociable from the moment that two or more people are present: stories are shared and favourite mugs are remembered by whoever is putting the kettle on.
 
It is entirely possible that both these teams of people have the same beliefs, such as ‘our work matters’, or ‘we are here to do our best’. But if the teams then prioritise different values as the best way to accomplish the work, we observe them behaving differently. Our first team might value ‘hierarchy and protocol’. Knowing that everyone from top to bottom has a lot to do, they  do not want to distract colleagues. Internally, their behaviour is not seen as rude or cold but rather as considerate. In contrast, our second team might value ‘peer support’ and feel that reinforcing the relationships between colleagues each morning makes the rest of the day run more smoothly and productively. so this behaviour is not seen internally time wasting or joking about, but rather friendly interest and concern for one another.
In theory, the model is simple: our beliefs about the world prompt us to value certain things above others, and in concert these two ‘forces’ drive behaviour. In practice, working with the model can be a challenge. As beliefs and values are deeply encoded within our brains, trying to put them into words is very hard. If we settle for the first thing that comes to mind, it will almost invariably be not-quite-right, since we can’t get down deep enough just by thinking.
This makes it sound like a huge challenge to figure out how to attract people who share our values if it is not simply asking what your values are.
 
 
Values in values-based recruitment
 
Jackie’s research into values leaves us with two questions.
 
The first is the obvious one: ‘how do we attract people who align with our values and are inspired by our purpose?’
The second is rarely considered as part of mainstream values-based recruitment. It is: 
‘how do we consciously demonstrate our values throughout the process?’ If we attempt the first without the second, we create a values mismatch that will be felt even if it cannot be clearly articulated. This raises the potential of growing cynical discontent as team members wonder why there was so much emphasis on, say, integrity, throughout the recruitment process, yet they did not get their contract to sign on time, and the induction process did not live up to what was promised.
 
Let’s not see values-based recruitment as asking a couple of questions about values in an interview. Let’s thread values through each stage of the recruitment process, in how we describe the role, in how we describe who we are looking for, in the adverts we place and where we place them, throughout the application pack, and in all our touchpoints with candidates. At the same time, let’s see values-based recruitment as an opportunity to show not just espouse the values of the organisation.
 
In summary
 
Values-Based recruitment is not 
Values-Based recruitment means
  • Simply adding the organisation’s list of values to the job information or advert
  • Looking at each part of the recruitment process and asking how you can use this to attract someone with the values you are looking for
  • Asking a question about a candidate’s values at interview
  • Recognising that values sit within the unconscious and embedding values issues within the process instead of asking about them directly
  • Asking people to describe how they live one of the values on your list
  • Creating opportunities to see how people live their values rather than espouse them
Martin Walker comments:
When I was reading, I was taken back to my time in a Local Authority when working on culture change and trying to move the culture to align with a personalised approach. I picked up a phrase ‘the way we do things around here…when no-one is looking’ which stuck with me. It made me think about the things that are shot through me like a stick of rock.
 
This is the really human stuff, that which makes us tick. I’m not sure I’m entirely clear what for me is a principle, what is a value, and what is a belief. That I am actively thinking about it as a result of reading Helen’s blog feels like a step forward.
 
At TLAP it’s always felt like I’m at home in the human sense rather than the physical these days since the people around me think, act and do like I do. They have the same singular purpose and it feels like we are similarly singular in our intent to realise that purpose. I’m not quite so sure about the rest of the sector, though I see shoots of green and the odd sunflower standing tall occasionally.
 
 
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