Don’t Ignore Warning Signs…


Who cares about your personal values? Of course, you do. Yet, organizations – business units and work groups – should have genuine curiosity about what you value as an employee or prospective employee. Your personal values, specifically your needs, desires and beliefs, represent what is important to you. Values become a cornerstone for decision-making and actions, and they can influence career choices. In organizations, personal values can influence how you interact with others – management, peers, junior colleagues, partners and clients – and how you engage in carrying out your role and responsibilities.

While personal values drive individual behavior, culture depicts organizational behavior – an important consideration as an employee or prospective employee. In a simplistic view, culture is the organization’s collective personality or identity. Gallup defines culture as “how employees interact and how work gets done.” Culture takes into account the organization’s mission, values, ethics, leadership, policies, procedures, performance expectations, communications, the “way we do things” and more.

Does alignment of your personal values and the organizational culture matter? If you consider employee engagement, it does matter. According to the Gallup State of the American Workplace 2016 survey, only 33% of U.S. workers responded as being fully engaged at work (cooperative, enthusiastic and committed to their work). It is believed that when an individual’s personal values and the organization’s culture align, the individual will likely engage, thrive and perform at a higher level in the workplace. On the other hand, when there is a collision between personal values and the organization’s culture, this tension breeds the “perfect storm” for individual and organizational underperformance.

Identifying and managing disconnects between personal values and an organization’s culture can lead to higher personal and organizational performance. Consider the following in this process:

Know what is important to you. Honesty. Flexibility. Equality. Respect. Loyalty. Credibility. Meritocracy. These are a few examples of personal values. Determine the values that are most important to you – those that greatly impact your decision-making and actions. Having a keen sense of your values helps you establish a benchmark to assess any gaps between your personal values and the organization’s culture – influencing how you “show up” in performing your role.

Get a pulse on the organization’s culture. If already an employee within an organization, you have a sense of the organization’s culture – the real culture experience as an employee, not the culture that leaders envision. Since the employee experience can vary by business units or work groups, do inside-the-office homework – observe actual behavior and talk to colleagues who work in the specific business function. If an external job seeker, your glimpse into an organization’s culture is through the eyes of others – what you learn during the interview, what you read, what you see, what you overhear when on-site.

Keep it real. Realize that the culture presented during an interview process may reflect what the leaders envision as culture, one that attracts the desired talent, rather than the actual culture. For instance, imagine that your core value is Meritocracy, expecting that the organization chooses, advances and rewards talented individuals based on their achievements. If the organization has no equitable process in place to regularly evaluate all employees’ job performance against pre-established, transparent goals and make equitable compensation decisions, then the organization’s culture and your personal values may be in conflict.

Seek to understand. Whether within or outside the organization, gather information about how things actually happen in the organization. If interviewing for a position, ask questions that yield specific examples about how the culture aligns to your values. If Meritocracy is a core value, ask for examples of how the organization assesses and rewards performance for all employees, including factors that influence or impede rewards and recognition. Gain an understanding of what the organization values in talented performers and how they are recognized and rewarded. Ask questions to determine the organization’s approach for professional development, career advancement and job enrichment opportunities. Keep the discussion conversational, avoid questions that produce “yes/no” answers, and remember to listen.

Once you have greater awareness about your personal values and an organization’s culture, analyze your intel for insight into how well your values and the organization’s culture align. You may find a strong affinity to the organization or significant gaps. Don’t ignore warning signs – significant gaps between your values and the organization’s culture. Sometimes gaps can be closed, narrowed or accepted “as is.” Adapted from theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, accept the things you cannot change, have the courage to change the things that you can and seek wisdom to know the difference. When personal values and organizational culture are in concert, organizations experience higher performing work environments and individuals have more rewarding career experiences!

Lillian Davenport, SPHR, SHRM – SCP, CTACC, Principal, End View Solutions, LLC

Lillian Davenport

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Lillian Davenport is a coach, consultant, and leadership strategist. Her signature program, M3 LeadershipSM, prepares you to enhance and develop your self-awareness, embrace your inner strength, and lead with confidence, courage, and impact.

Lillian’s career as a human resources leader includes roles at JPMorgan Chase & Co., Woodforest National Bank, and American International Group, Inc. (AIG), where she leveraged employee relations, and diversity, equity, and inclusion expertise in leadership development.