Some 20 years ago, an independent agency owner in a small, upstate New York town told me how difficult it had been for him to recruit new talent.
But something changed…when he changed.
The principal had more success when he toned down classic HR questions like, “Tell me about your work history” or “Why did you leave your last job?”
He started asking prospects richer questions: “What drives you?” “What are you passionate about?” “What do you really love to do?”
He also strived for at least half of the interview to be about why the candidate should consider joining the firm. Great talent always has choices, so why not outline what a great place to work his agency would be?
In other words, he intentionally introduced two key components of the agency’s brand strategy: its core values and its vision for a better world for customers.
This owner’s experience isn’t a one-off. When you appeal to a candidate’s “why,” or belief system, you will attract, hire and keep talented associates because they will embrace and live your core values and vision.
True leaders believe in something greater than themselves.
Vision is why we do what we do. Not just the how or what we do. (For more insight on this, view a Simon Sinek TED Talk.)
Firms typically write ineffective, weak or downright terrible vision statements. For example: “Our vision is to be the top provider of car insurance in New Hampshire by 2022.”
Nice business goal. Terrible vision.
Customers won’t give you money or associates won’t want to work with you because “the top provider of car insurance” is your goal.
Your vision should be about the better world you’re creating for your customers. It’s not about financials. Nor is it about you or your success. It’s about them.
“We envision a world where consumers love insurance as much as their cars.”
That would change things, right?
The vision is your powerful “why” statement.
Core values are equally powerful. Your associates don’t care about your employee manual with all of the rules. Core values are all they need to trust each other and act to generate results.
Envision an infinity symbol, with brand (customer-facing expressions) on one loop and culture (the internal brand) on the other. Values are the “x” in the middle of the two loops, and it’s a continuum all linked together. Core values are where brand and culture intersect.
With core values, you can understand a firm’s personality.
Zappos is a shoe seller in the middle of a desert. It also ranks off the charts in employee happiness. Among its values: “Embrace and drive change,” “Deliver wow through service,” “Do more with less,” “Pursue growth and learning,” and “Create fun and a little weirdness.”
A nonprofit dance studio: “Learn, unlearn, relearn.” “Challenge ourselves and each other.” “Love what you do.” “Communicate honestly.” “Be fearless and wildly creative.” “Encourage and embrace innovation.”
A Silicon Valley tech firm: “We are radically transparent.” “We constantly question the status quo.” “We strive to solve for the customer.” “We are unreasonably picky about our people.” “We invest in individual mastery.” “We believe in autonomy not autocracy.”
From Thimble, an insurtech based in New York City:
- Be relentlessly creative — Question everything.
- Simplify — Get to the point. Make it crystal clear. Cut everything else.
- A green light means go — Act. Move forward. Learn.
- Own every detail — Be ruthlessly precise. Disciplined. Sweat the small stuff.
- Every moment counts — Show up early and ready. Deliver on time or before.
- Stay human — Treat every person, and their ideas, with respect.
While Thimble’s values might work well for a fast-paced city environment, they might not be appropriate for your firm.
If your culture isn’t truly open to change, then a value such as “Challenge the status quo” will be an issue because as workers follow that tenet, they’ll be encouraged to raise a hand in a department meeting and ask, “Our customer onboarding process seems stale. We’ve done it the same way for as long as I can remember. Why don’t we rethink the whole thing?”
If you don’t have your list of five to seven core values, you must write them down together with your team:
- Don’t outsource the task to consultants. Instead, discuss and codify your authentic list internally. Write actionable statements, not cliches or platitudes such as, “The customer is always right.”
- Don’t just make them up. Be authentic. Core values should describe how workers should behave at your firm, not some other company.
- It’s okay if some of them are aspirational. You may not be innovative today, but you want to be tomorrow, so write it down and get to work.
If you want a values-driven culture for your agency, hire people using your core values as a filter. Share your list of core values. Ask: “Does this look like a place you’d want to work?” Armed with a set of values, the recruiting process is more compelling, insightful and productive.
Hiring and keeping great associates is about more than a paycheck. It’s about loving the work, and the greater cause behind it. So enthusiastically share your values and vision with others.
Seek associates who come to work every day not because they have to, but because they want to.
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