Three Essentials in Evaluating Chemistry During an Interview

Zappos famously guards their culture. Because they know each person brought on the team will either contribute to or corrode a healthy culture, they pay people not to accept a job after going through orientation. Even if a person is talented, they don’t want the person to stay if the person does not believe in the values they espouse.

So how do you evaluate fit or chemistry during an interview? Here are three essentials:

1. Know your team’s actual values.

In 2008, Mike Krzyzewski, the basketball coach of Duke, was given the task to restore USA Men’s Olympic basketball to the prominence it once enjoyed. The team was given the name the Re-deem team. In the early meetings of the team, Krzyzewski pulled the guys together to talk about their team values. He called them standards—standards they would live by and hold each other accountable to. He said in his book Gold Standards that they constantly referred back to their standards, statements like: We tell each other the truth. We are hungry. We have no bad practices. Mike Krzyzewski said that his Duke team’s standards were very different, which confirmed what he always knew: “Each team is different even when playing the same game.”

You can’t check for chemistry if you don’t know your team’s values. You have to invest time unearthing what convictions are beneath the surface, what really drives the culture of the team you are leading. Before leaders can declare a new set of values, they must discover what is already valued. Of course, some of the values you discover are ones you will not want to highlight and celebrate, but there will be affirmable and valuable values that should be cherished and commended.

2. Know your team’s aspirational values.

A leader or leadership team can bring new values into a culture, but only if actual values are also identified and celebrated. When I consult with Auxano, we refer to new values leaders desire in the culture as aspirational values. We encourage teams to have twice as many actual values as aspirational ones, or we fear leaders are not really leading in their current context but in a fantasy context in their minds. An effective way to embed new values in a culture is to recruit people who passionately believe and live them.

3. Discover shared values and contradictory values with the candidate.

Because you know your actual and aspirational values, you can look for shared and contradictory values with the candidate. Don’t merely hand a document with your values listed and ask if there is agreement. Savvy candidates can “interview up” to anyone’s values. Dig into their past roles. Spend ample time getting to know the person. Have discussions about how work/ministry should be accomplished—not just about whether or not the person can do the job.

If you cannot find displayed commitment to what is valued in your culture or if you find contradictory values, there is not a chemistry fit. If the person would need to become someone different to fit in your culture, it is not a fit for either side. However, if you discover a track record of displayed commitment to the values (both actual and aspirational) that are essential in your culture, the person will contribute to the health of your team.