The terms company values and culture are often used interchangeably to refer to a company’s beliefs about the world and their “way of doing things.” But they are not the same. Mixing up values and culture can lead to inefficient and unfair hiring practices. When your goal is candidate-company fit, it’s essential to focus on values alignment rather than “cultural fit.”
Company values (or company core values) are the foundational beliefs that are meant to guide a company’s behaviors and decisions. They often reflect a view of how the world is or should be.
Having a clear set of company values is tremendously important to the success of a business. These values guide decision-making in all parts of the company, whether high-stakes strategic or ethical decisions or smaller day-to-day decisions (which, in aggregate, are just as important). Clearly stated values also provide a structured way to resolve disagreements.
Company culture is a description of the traits and behaviors of people at an organization; it is defined by the set of behaviors that are tolerated, encouraged, or discouraged. Culture may or may not be founded on a set of company values, and company culture and an individual team’s culture may differ.
Values alignment, an essential element of candidate-company fit, arises when the candidate and the company have compatible perspectives with regard to work styles and mission. When faced with difficult decisions, would the candidate’s values help them make decisions that promote company goals? Does the candidate feel comfortable with or inspired by the way the company conducts itself, and vice versa?
Culture without values puts you in the dangerous position of repeating patterns and behaviors that do not line up with how the company wants to see itself or what the company wants to accomplish. It’s worth noting that a company without explicitly defined values will still have a culture—just one that stems from the personalities and behaviors of its leaders and early employees, rather than one having any careful thought, design, or purpose.
Values and culture, within and outside of a company setting, usually stem from things like tradition, background, and comfort. As with any criteria that places constraints on who you hire, there’s a risk that, if taken to an extreme, values and culture as hiring criteria can result in homogeneity—similarity of thought, behavior, and demographic makeup, none of which are good for business nor employee retention.
Values can be a key selling-point to potential hires—candidates want to know that what motivates them will be valued by the company and team. The product Key Values lets companies share their values with candidates, who can browse and search by the values they care about to find suitable companies.
If your company values are not well-defined, it will be difficult to assess candidate-company fit properly. At larger companies, some form of written values may already exist; if you’re the founder or hiring manager at a startup, or you’d like your team to reflect on its values, we cover defining company values in Appendix B.
Joining a company full time is a big decision. Even in an age when engineers switch jobs frequently, a successful hire will be spending years of their life, at 40 or perhaps 60 hours a week, working and thinking about their work. It usually takes months or even years to ramp up and learn the context and technical details to be successful.
Technical software hires can also be in high demand, especially for the most talented engineers. The best candidates may have many options. They are not just deciding what company to work for; they are deciding what other opportunities they are giving up. If it’s not a good fit in terms of the work, the manager, the role, the mission, or values of the team, people are likely to move on quickly.
These considerations show how important it can be to focus on finding a strong fit for both sides.
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