Common Values and Recruitment

July 24th, 2006 by Hugh

Values are very important at Exbiblio. The website as it currently stands ranks them as the second tab after “home,” coming before what the company makes or does. The aim of recruitment at the company is to collect together a set of people with values that match Exbiblio’s values.

I’m told that job interviews begin with the question, “Tell me, what is the appropriate response when a pan-handler (a “beggar” in UK speak) asks you for money in the street?” Apparently, there is no single correct answer.

It’s also important that people coming to Exbiblio understand the implications of getting involved in a start-up and that it means a seamless integration between work and personal life. The theory runs that if people make the distinction between work life and personal life, then there is something very wrong going on.

It’s not an aggressive interview by any means. The approach is that Exbiblio is applying to be the employer, but Martin, the founder, admits that he is looking first and foremost for people he would enjoy working with. The conclusion that I draw from this is that the “personal” element is unavoidable in business as elsewhere in life.

2 Responses to “Common Values and Recruitment”

  1. Claes-Fredrik Mannby Says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading your posts, and meeting you, Hugh. Thanks!

    I thought I’d comment on the issue of work-life integration. I very much agree with what I see as Exbiblio’s position on this, but I think it could be clarified somewhat.

    I personally don’t think it’s an issue that relates particularly to startups, although breaches of integration will be more acute in the case of a startup.

    It is true that startups can really use a lot of dedication and hard work, and startups often involve work at odd hours, and sometimes long hours, at least compared to some very large, unionized companies and government agencies. But, I see work-life integration as being a very different issue, which is important to peopleā€”as people. People will live happier lives if they practice integrity to their values 24/7, regardless of context. This is true in many ways.

    At perhaps the simplest level, it’s important to people that they do work that they enjoy, and produce things that they like. Many people aren’t able to honestly say to themselves that their personality and interests gel with their work in this way.

    At a deeper level, it’s important to people that they work in a culture that they enjoy and participate in. E.g., if they choose to fight other people for scarce spots high up on a corporate latter, that’s one preference; if they choose to build beauty and teach and learn from other sincere and brilliant people in an open and high-visibility environment, that’s a different one.

    It’s also important to people that what they produce, whether inside or outside an office, is the sort of stuff they’d like to see in the world.

    These things are important to people for them to live happy, fulfilling lives, whether they believe they are important or not.

    This is the sense in which I believe work and personal life should be integrated. One is the same person, whether at home or work, and it’s unhealthy to pretend otherwise.

    It’s also difficult and inappropriate to put in the hard work needed to make a startup successful if the work is not part of one’s life’s mission.

  2. Adam Says:

    Once, while discussing this work / live integration with Martin he compared selling your lawnmower to a friend to setting salaries for new employees.

    Would you try to get the very highest price possible for the mower or would you offer your neighbor a price that you thought was fair for both of you? Or maybe trade services… Would it matter if the neighbor was ignorant of mower prices and would be willing to pay twice as much?

    These kind of story problems (how would you treat your friend in this situation) are a great way to solve business ethics questions, and I believe are the heart of our corporate values, as are the issues of taking joy in our work that Claes-Fredrik commented on.

    By the way, the panhandler question, when I’ve heard it asked is actually, “What do you do when a panhandler asks for money”, not “what is the appropriate response” as often people actually take an action that they don’t feel is optimal (interesting how humans are wired isn’t it?).

    In any case, now that this question has been posted on the blog, I expect well considered responses to this question from future recruits!