I recently read an article touting a 41-year profitability streak for Southwest Airlines.  This is unheard of in the airline industry.  What separates Southwest Airlines from the pack? I believe it is CULTURE!  As anyone who has flown SW Airlines knows, you could be blindfolded and know you were on a Southwest flight versus one of the other airlines just by how you are treated and addressed.

A culture like this is built intentionally, it does not happen by accident.  A primary responsibility of a leader is to elevate the values of an organization. Focus in this area will lead to the desired culture.

I have found one of the most effective ways a leader builds their desired culture is by hiring to values ahead of competency.  I am not suggesting hiring an English major to do the work of a Chemical Engineer or vice versa.  BUT, I would suggest the first criteria and hurdle before moving to an analysis of competency is values alignment.

I have been asked numerous times how you actually put this in practice.  You must first start with the foundational work of establishing crystal clear behaviorally defined values for your organization. An example of this would be:

VALUE: Mutual Respect – We treat each other with consideration, compassion and appreciation in all aspects of our relationships.


  • I will support the consensus of my team by my words and actions
  • I will practice self-discipline by keeping my emotions under control
  • I will earn trust through honesty and integrity in all I do
  • I will accept responsibility and apologize when I have eroded trust
  • I will be constructive, respectful, and supportive of others

Once this heavy lifting is done it becomes easier to discern if an applicant’s values are aligned with that of the organization.  Here are 3 methods to discern values during the interview process: 

1) Values aligned behavioral based questions.  Building off the value of Mutual Respect, possible questions for a future team member might include:

  • “How do you typically react when things don’t go as planned within your team?” 
  • “Describe a scenario when you clearly made a bad decision that had an impact on your team, and how you handled it?”
  • “What are people doing when they frustrate you?”

2) Multiple Points of View.  Have as many people as possible talk to potential team members, all with the idea of discerning the applicant’s values. Different people detect different things

3) Get to Know the Applicant Personally.  This is all about observation and seeing how they interact.

  • Get potential team members out of the office / work setting. Take them to dinner.
  • Meet their spouse / family.
  • Observe their behavior in personal settings such as sporting events, time with their family, and time with friends.

Values matter more than anything in an organization. As Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for lunch!” So doing whatever is necessary to ensure that new employees are aligned with the organization’s values will be time well spent! It will perpetuate your desired culture.

Bonus: As an applicant, always move the interview discussion to clear delineation of how your values align with the values of the organization. That was my advice to my younger son, coming out of Iowa State University as an Industrial Engineer. He was interviewing during the height of the economic downturn in 2008. Every engineer coming out of ISU is extremely qualified and has many great projects and internships under their belt. Most of them focus on those projects and experiences in their interview. Moving the conversation to a focus on values alignment, my son was offered a job by every company (4/4) he interviewed with.

How are you intentionally discerning values alignment for future team members within your organization?