In a business environment there are two levels of values that effect our lived experience at work. At one level there are the values of the organisation. These are values the organisation chooses to share internally and externally with a spectrum of stakeholders as a way of showing what the organisation is about. These are the values that are formally shared. They may be included in the vision or mission statement of the organisation and are sometimes directly linked to the organisational branding. Then there are the values that define us as individuals. Values at this level underpin and guide our decision making and our behaviours. Our best experiences in a working environment occur when our personal values are aligned with the organisations values.
In order for us to align our personal values with that of our organisations, we first need to identify what these values are and then we need to consciously connect with them. I have been working my entire adult life and only in the last year have I taken the time to consider what my own values are. I mean I knew on a personal level the general values that shape me and how I live my life, but I hadn’t really thought about how they influence the decisions I make .
I’ve built a successful career in academia over the last 20 years. It is a career that pays well and offers job security. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to continue working in academia during the pandemic. Yet as I look forward to the next 20 years of my career, I’m left wanting more. The problem was I couldn’t articulate what that ‘more’ was so how could I go out and find it? Plus I was feeling incredibly conflicted because I was grateful for so many aspects of my career at a time when so many were desperately trying to simply hold on to a job, it felt morally wrong to want more of anything. Then I discovered the Next Level Life Podcast by Business mindset coach Christine Corcoran, specifically an episode about values. Having listened to that episode I took the time to consider my own personal values.
My values are:
freedom – respect – impact – authenticity – trust
This is what I want more of, more freedom, respect, impact, authenticity and trust. Now I have identified these I have to figure out if my current working situation can give me this – are my values aligned with my organisations?
- Begin by acknowledging your own values.
Write a list of your values. It doesn’t matter how long the list is and it may take some time to formulate. But don’t over think it at this point. This list is just your starting point. Now look at the list and consider which values feel like a priority right now. Ask yourself if I had to choose between value A and B which would I choose and why? Work though your list until you have a number of values that feels right for you. Five for me feels manageable but this is a personal choice. Your values don’t need to be fixed but they should be stable. It’s okay for some of your values to change as you go through life changing events, such as starting out in your career, starting a family, facing a pandemic. But our core values help us make decisions so even in times of change we need to remain true to who we are and what we believe in.
Ask yourself right now what are the values you need to, or want to prioritise? Will these values help you achieve your goals? Are any of these values constantly being unmet? Are there situations where you feel a value is being compromised or do you feel conflict between the values? How have these values served you in the past? Have you made choices in the past lead by one or more of these values that have left you feeling uneasy? On paper it may look like a great value but if it doesn’t sit well with you then its not an authentic value to you and it will leave you feeling compromised.
Congratulations you have now identified your personal values. Now you have to pay attention to them. When and where do they show up in your life? One of the key places we turn to values is when we make decisions. Now we all make endless decisions everyday. From the small inconsequential decision about what to eat for breakfast, to decisions about what to do with our time and who to spend that time with. Observe with curiosity the decisions you make and assign one or more values to that decision. Try this for a week or two and see which values are driving your decisions and which ones are you negating and ask yourself why.
2. Understand the values of your organisation
Organisational values are the DNA of the organisation. They shape the culture. Far too many organisations fail to articulate clearly what their values are or they have drifted away from them as they have grown. Or worse still they say their values are x, y, and z but in realty what you experience is a, b, and c. Therefore identifying the organisations values is trickier than identifying your own.
Hopefully it’s a clear cut case. You can find a list of values and you experience these in your day to day work life. If not you’re going to have to identify them yourself. Start with your experience. Imagine I’m a friend of a friend and I’m applying to work at your organisation. You’ve very kindly agreed to have a coffee with me prior to my interview and I ask you what it’s like to work there. The values of your organisation will be embedded in this brief overview you share with me:
“we’re a very competitive team, energetic but hard working. Everyone gets a say which is great but it’s a competition, you’ve got to pull your own weight, you’ve got to have something to say, you’ve got to contribute. We get the job done which means doing whatever it takes to make the client happy. If your ambitious and work hard you can go far.”
ambition – independence – drive – responsibility – competition
As with step 1, once you have identified the values, look for them. Do you see them being enacted upon when people make decisions, when new staff are hired, or promotions discussed. Are they reflected in appraisal feedback or in the allocation of perks such as end of year bonuses.
3. Consciously connect with these values
Now you have identified your personal values and those of your organisation you need to check there is an alignment between the two. A misalignment between them will result in conflict and stress. It’s one of the main contributing factors to the square peg round hole scenario, that constant rub that makes you feel you just don’t fit in. A misalignment will make career progression complex, decision making difficult and it will compromise your ability to be authentic. For example if you really value freedom and your organisation has a strict full time, 9:00-17:00 working mentality you may feel restricted. Or if your organisation values creativity and you feel more comfortable working inside the box, you may constantly feel uncomfortable. Whilst these may feel like small compromises, over time they may chip away at your ability to be your authentic self and trust me – that is exhausting.
On the other hand when values align magic happens. Value alignment creates that sweet spot of value recognition which is completely energising for all those involved. When you consciously connect your personal values with your organisations values and you are able to make authentic decisions, those will be decisions that are valued.
Take the time and do the work. Reflect on your own personal values and identify those of your organisation. If your values are aligned work on making a conscious connection between those values and how you work, the decisions you make, the projects you commit to, the clients you engage with. It’s easy to drift from these values but its important to constantly reconnect and acknowledge them. And ask yourself are these values reflected in our culture – are we doing what we say we want to do?
If your values are not aligned, sit with that and ask yourself why. Is there an opportunity to work towards alignment or are you a square peg in a round hole? If its the later, that’s okay. The world needs square pegs, and triangular pegs, and all the other shape pegs. But if you stay in the round hole, the constant rub will wear you down, so you need to find an organisation that values your values.