Hiring Leaders in Alignment with Organizational Values


Making bad hiring decisions is incredibly costly. Making hiring decisions in which a leader chosen who doesn’t uphold the organization’s values or is unethical is even more costly. At stake is the organization’s reputation, customer trust, and shareholder value.

Selecting leaders who will promote an organization’s values or ethics is essential as more of today’s employees are looking for organizations that provide meaning and make a contribution to the broader world. The pressure to hire individuals who will drive the organization or business unit toward the right decisions — financially and ethically — is increasing.

At the same time, the inclusion of a means of evaluating congruence with organizational values is often ignored. The fundamental question becomes, “How do you hire or promote people who will be good leaders, will align with your organization’s values, and will create or reinforce an ethical culture in your business?” The answer lies in integrating these three specific strategies:

  1. Clarify and operationalize your guiding principles
    Most organizations have stated values or guiding principles. Take those values from the poster in the lobby and put them into practice. Closely examine each value to ensure it both describes expected behavior, guides decisions, and provides an aspirational direction for your organization. Explain each value in terms of the expected behavior. For example, if “integrity” is a guiding principle, what does it mean in daily practice? Does that mean people are expected to be honest, does it mean people are expected to speak up, or does it mean both?
  2. Convert guiding principles into competencies you can use for candidate selection
    A good selection processes, whether for hiring or promotion, is based on competencies critical to doing a successful job. If you’re hiring a plumber, you need to make sure the person has the technical expertise and appropriate training to do the job. The same is true if you’re hiring a leader who you want to be effective, ethical, and aligned with your values. Multiple competencies relate to ethical leadership, but for simplicity let’s examine three.
    Integrity means that an individual must be able to speak the truth and is willing to do so in situations where they may be challenged.
    Critical reasoning is using logical and intuitive processes to sort through information when making decisions and analyzing right and wrong relative to the decision being made.
    Moral mindset is demonstrating curiosity about the nature of right, wrong, and fairness. A person with a moral mindset goes beyond the traditional bottom line to examine what’s right in a given situation.

    While the competencies necessary to ensure alignment with guiding principles and ethical behavior will vary by organization, awareness of right and wrong, the ability to reason about ethical issues, and speaking up for the truth serve as a foundation.

  3. Develop a systematic selection process that measures competencies
    To be clear, there’s no selection process that’s 100-percent infallible, particularly when you’re hiring leaders. If there were, all our organizations would be better led than they are. However, some steps you can take will increase the odds that the leaders you hire and promote will align with your guiding principles and behave ethically.

    Note, however, that while the focus should be on hiring and promoting ethical leaders, keep in mind that with any selection process, the goal should also measure leadership potential or effectiveness. A leader can exemplify the highest integrity in the world, but if they can’t lead others, it may be meaningless.

To select ethical leaders, organizations need to incorporate various means of measuring potential against defined competencies. Involving multiple perspectives ensures higher reliability, greater quality control, and the minimizing of undue biases or influence of any one individual involved in the process. Measures of ethical competencies can include:

Psychometric tests that involve valid measures of critical reasoning and personality measures correlating with acting with integrity.

Interviews that focus on obtaining examples of past behavior. While not perfect, identifying what someone has done in the past is a good predictor of how they will behave in the future. Examples of questions that look at moral mindset and critical reasoning include: “Tell me about a time when you felt strongly that someone was being treated unfairly or inappropriately. Did you take any action?” Or “Not all situations have clear-cut answers. Tell me about a time when you had to choose among a variety of possible solutions to a problem. What steps did you take to analyze the situation?”

Moral dilemmas that have no right or wrong answer, but may be utilized in the interview to evaluate both moral mindset and critical reasoning.

Case studies can be used when time permits. In such situations, the candidate is given a case to analyze and then asked to present their recommendations.

When used appropriately, these strategies enhance the selection process by allowing for a variety of ways to measure key competencies in relation to your organization’s values.

Organizations need to ensure that their leaders live their values and are ethical. This can be accomplished if guiding principles lead to competencies and the competencies are then incorporated in systems that identify future leaders.

Written by Richard B. Swegan.

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