The most critical aspect of being a successful business leader is building a company that inspires innovation and productivity. Your ability to identify bright people with the right skills who fit into your company culture is an art worth mastering.
One wrong person can negatively affect your culture. You can work well with almost anyone — whether it be a seasoned expert or a first-year hire coming out of school — when you know the values you have in common with them.
A talented executive creative director was hired by an advertising agency to spark creative ideas for their most important clients. Over time, the partners learned she was consistently criticizing her creative team when clients rejected their work. She was abrasive with the company’s client service department, putting them on the defensive and claiming they poorly communicated what the clients wanted. She did not take responsibility.
The creative director was a poor communicator and leader, lacking the value of empathy. She did not fit well within the agency’s collaborative culture. After six months, she was replaced, and it cost the agency time, lost business, and money to replace her and the unhappy team members who left because of her.
When companies put up with poor employee relationships, they allow the propagation of stress and anxiety that weakens productivity, innovation, and positive coworker interactions. The Global Organization for Stress says that 80 percent of all workers are stressed in their jobs. How often are you and your team frustrated, angry, confused, bored, or unhappy at work? Are you or your staff:
• wasting time in unproductive meetings?
• constantly putting out fires?
• dealing with energy-draining deadlines?
• engulfed in toxic politics?
• struggling with staff retention?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, it is time to reevaluate your company’s relationship-building efforts, which start with your hiring process. The best way to identify the right relationship-chemistry match for your company is to use the three-step “Chemistry Factor” process.
Step 1: Know Yourself
Take the time for self-reflection to discover the values that inspire you and your company. Value discovery will likely require some interaction with your firm’s department heads and their staff members. You want to find out what values inspire them and ask them to share stories that define more accurately what each value means to them.
For example, one department head I worked with once shared an experience of his from middle school. One day, he was the designated basketball captain on the playground. As his first pick for his team, he chose a schoolmate usually chosen last to play. The boy was surprised but elated. This small gesture gave the boy confidence and created a lasting friendship between the two. In turn, this “empowered empathy” story inspired everyone in the department as well.
Take your time with this self-discovery exercise; make sure everyone participates. You want to get the full story of the company’s values, as this will make it easier to identify those values in conversations with candidates.
Values are your rules of conduct; they characterize your sense of self and are elemental to the actions you take. When a value is empowered, your actions are inspired. When a value is disconnected, you will make things wrong, which is stressful, limiting your productivity and motivation.
One story I use to empower my value of confidence reflects on a time I would step into the batter’s box when playing softball. I knew on a particular playing field that I could consistently hit a home run over the right-field fence. It wasn’t that I hit a home run every time, but I was confident that I could. Embracing this story empowers confidence in me. Empowering a value takes out any disruptive thoughts in your mind, shifting your perspective and inspiring you to act in the moment.
The better you know your own values, the easier it is to determine how strong the chemistry will be with the person you meet in the interview. You can identify the values you have in common with them and those you do not, allowing you to turn a gut feeling into an informed understanding.
Step 2: Learn How to Listen for Values
Once you identify your values, it is time to strengthen your listening skills. Many interviewers approach the interview as a test for the candidate to pass. This test mentality limits your listening proficiency. It often causes you to listen more to yourself; you’re so busy judging the candidate’s answers that you never reach a deeper understanding of the person you are speaking to.
A great question to ask a candidate in the interview is, “What makes you successful?” This question opens the answer up to their discretion. Ask them to give you a story that defines the values they feel contribute to their success.
For example, in one interview, a respondent said part of what made him successful was his dedication. The candidate elaborated on how he was dedicated to attaining a certified public accountant license while working full-time. He planned out his study schedule and kept to it, eventually passing all parts on his first exam. In his brief answer, the candidate clearly illuminated values of focus, goal orientation, organization, and confidence.
Gut feeling can be helpful in hiring, but understanding the values associated with your intuitive sense will make for more informed decisions. Listen carefully to identify the values each candidate has in common with you; this will help you create and maintain an inspiring company culture by recruiting the right people.
Treat the interview as an adventure of discovery by adopting a field-trip mentality. Make the interview an inspirational exploration rather than a frustrating endeavor. To do this, you should embrace and empower the memory of a vacation or field trip that defines discovery for you.
The first time I visited China in 1980, I had a fascinating experience exploring a people and society that were unknown to me. I remember watching a sea of blue waves —hundreds of people dressed in the same blue coats — bicycling in unison on Guangzhou’s curved main roads. Bringing that sense of curiosity and discovery to any of my projects inspires my actions. Embracing your peak moment of discovery will heighten your listening skills, too.
Keep a list of your values in front of you during the interview. Check off those you hear in the conversation and circle the ones you do not. If you recognize a value honored more than once, check it each time you hear it.
Step 3: Listen for a Candidate’s Work Style and Thought Process
Review each job responsibility to understand your own expectations for how you want the work managed. Prepare questions to address how a candidate thinks through the challenges of the position. You will want the candidate to tell a story about how they accomplish each responsibility from inception to completion; the stories should ideally be detailed, as if the candidate were training you to do the job. This discussion will help you understand how their work style and depth of experience align with your organization.
I recall one candidate who was extremely detailed when sharing her thought process, but she did not share a story; it was more like a how-to. Her response was a turnoff to the interviewer, who felt disconnected from the candidate’s communication skills. The position called for an engaging personality, as this person would be responsible for training staff. Another candidate, who was later offered the job, explained in story how she managed previous positions and challenges, emphasizing specific values of encouragement and support in training her staff.
When you meet a candidate who is a strong match, you can lose your sense of time in the interview. If you feel that the interview is dragging, value disconnection is likely the cause. Value connection, on the other hand, grounds you in the present, and by keeping track of values you hear in the conversation, you can gain a clear understanding of what connects you to the candidate and vice versa.
Enjoy the exploratory interview process and avoid rushing forward. The better you know what you want, the easier it is to find a candidate will fit into your company. When you choose a new hire who inspires you and your coworkers, work will be an adventure to look forward to, no matter how challenging.
Barney Feinberg, PCC, CPCC, CPA, is the founder and CEO of The Chemistry Factor — Executive Coach and Recruiter and the author of The Chemistry Factor – Create Powerful Business Relationships for Greater Success. Follow him on Twitter: @chemistryfactor.