Jay Colker: Take the time to learn what makes people tick and increase your odds of making a good hire

Substantial literature has been presented on the importance of alignment around leadership, strategy, structure, processes, systems, values, culture, people and skills. What leaders may often miss are the nuances involved with alignment, especially around people practices. Individuals come to work with a set of core beliefs and values about self and others. Organizations have expectations, stated or not, around core values and how people should behave. When leaders can be strategic around alignment, employee engagement and outcomes are likely to be significantly higher.

Authors Meyers, Becker and van Dick wrote about social identities and commitments at work. They described two types of identities: situation and deep structure.


Identifying the identity

With the situation identity, an individual is committed as long as there are benefits — for example, convenience of work location or flexible hours. With deep structure identity, an individual ties his or her self-concept with the core values of the organization or with the work itself.

Leaders can spend more time at the time of hire and in coaching discussions understanding what is important to their employees. Leaders can then reinforce their employees’ core beliefs and values by tying them more tightly into organizational outcomes and goals.

One size does not fit all here. It is critical to translate these discussions into language that aligns with each employee, i.e., what is most important to him or her individually.

Fancher noted that employee retention depends on alignment of culture, individual and organizational values, individual and organizational identities and a dedication to common goals. Authors Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski and Flowers spoke about mental models. These are either individual beliefs or shared beliefs among employees.


Don’t ever assume

Leaders wanting to be more strategic about alignment can consider implementing the following actions:


  • Ensure recruiting behavioral interview questions assess for passion, for core beliefs and values. Assess where prospective employees are most excited and connected to their work. Link job responsibilities and organizational values to this passion.
  • As part of the initial discussion of work responsibilities, ensure that the supervisor understands an employee’s core beliefs and values. Subsequent feedback on work performance must ensure the employee is meeting standards but also must link back to what is most important to the employee. Discussing outcomes in language that the employee most identifies with will likely reinforce engagement.
  • Design internal communication in language that addresses both the values of the organization and the most predominant beliefs and values of employees.


Too frequently, leaders assume that by just reinforcing the mission, vision, and values of the organization, employees will accept them and be fully engaged.

By focusing more strategically on understanding each employee’s core beliefs and values, and then reinforcing the alignment with the corporation’s values, employees are more likely to be engaged at a deep structure level and be more committed overall.