How Strong Values Give Levi Strauss Recruiters a Leg Up on the Competition

October 16, 2018

Levi Strauss and Company has one of the most storied brands on the planet, its blue jeans having been worn by celebrities from James Dean and Marilyn Monroe to Barack Obama, Leonardo DiCaprio, and many more. Levi’s have starred in films and TV shows, songs and album covers (remember those?).

The company invented riveted blue jeans in 1873. Today, Levi Strauss sells its apparel products, from iconic 501 jeans to on-trend denim trucker jackets, in 110 countries at 50,000 different points of sale, including 3,000 branded stores.

But, Levi’s has its challenges. That’s because it’s headquartered in San Francisco, CA – meaning that when it comes to hiring top talent for it’s corporate office, Levi’s has to do so in one of the most competitive talent markets in the world.

In this episode of Talent on Tap, Levis’ Director of Talent Acquisition James Hudson tells LinkedIn’s Head of Recruiting Brendan Browne that the fabric of the company gives him a recruiting advantage. That fabric is not durable blue denim. It’s durable values.

Strong values give Levi’s a competitive edge

James says Levi’s can’t compete with the Bay Area’s big tech companies. “That being said,” James tells Brendan, “where we can really overindex is the strong values that have formed part of the fabric of this company since day one.” The company’s core values are empathy, originality, integrity, and courage, and Levi’s has leveraged all of them in giving back to the communities in which it operates.

“I truly believe that the modern job seeker is looking for more than just a company to work for,” James says. “They’re looking for a place where their beliefs can resonate with those of the organization that they work for.”

James’s notion that company values are important to workers is supported by recent research. In 2016, Cone Communications reported that its survey of millennials found 76% look at a company’s social and environmental commitment when deciding where to work and 75% say they would take a pay cut to work for a responsible company.

Levi Strauss recruiters and managers sell the company—and its values—with personal stories

“One of the reasons we’ve been able to survive for the past 165 years,” James says, “is because we really believe in profits through principles, and everything we do is really built on the founding principles and values of Levi Strauss.”

In 1853, 24-year-old Levi Strauss arrived in San Francisco, opened a wholesale dry goods business, and was quickly successful.

“The very first thing he did with that first year’s profit was to donate money to an orphanage here in San Francisco,” James says. The young entrepreneur’s $5 donation to the Orphan Asylum Society of the City of San Francisco set a tone that still resounds at Levi’s, where employees sometimes wear T-shirts that say, "Giving back never goes out of style."

Because of this, James says it’s easy to get his recruiters spreading the word about what makes Levi’s a special place — there are no scripts. “I don’t have to be prescriptive in telling our store managers how to tell values-led stories,” James says, “because values-led initiatives aren’t something that are isolated to our corporate offices. All of our people around the world have the opportunity to volunteer, to give back, and to stand up in the communities they operate in.”

Recruiters at any company need to tell stories that are authentic to their experiences. “If you’re not speaking from the heart,” James says, “people can tell.”

In addition, social responsibility is part of the corporate DNA at Levi’s. “We like to say that we’ve always been on the right side of history,” James says.

For example, during the Great Depression, as demand for Levi’s products shrunk, the company put its employees on a short work week rather than laying them off. In the 1940s, Levi’s desegregated its factories, long before most other businesses did so. Since the 1980s, Levi's has supported HIV-positive employees and their families by fighting discrimination in the workplace and by providing treatment and care through the company's health plans.

What this means for you: Trumpet your values loudly and frequently

Values — authentic, time-tested, shared — are the hallmarks of your workplace and a great selling point these days.

In a recent LinkedIn survey of over 3,000 U.S. professionals, 71% said they would be willing to take a pay cut to work for a company that shares their values and has a mission they believe in. In addition, 70% of our survey respondents said they would not work for a leading company if it had a bad culture.

One powerful way for companies to show that they’re serious about their values is by encouraging — and supporting — employees to get involved in the community. A recent survey by the Society of Human Resource Management found that over the last four years the number of companies offering paid time off for volunteering has risen 50% — from 16% to 24%.

Genentech dedicates a full week each June to giving back to the local community. Salesforce offers employees 56 hours (seven work days) of paid time off each year for volunteering — and then rewards employees who complete their days of service with $1,000 to donate to their favorite nonprofit. So it’s hardly surprising that last year Salesforce was No. 1 on the list of Best Workplaces for Giving Back.

“I’m really fortunate here,” James says about Levi’s, “that there’s enough that we do that I can find what resonates for me personally and then speak authentically to that.”

His parting advice? James offers: “I would say try to do the same thing within your own organization, find what really, truly resonates with you and capitalize on that.”

*Photo by Levi's

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