your values

When Your Values No Longer Line Up With Your Company

How well do your values align with your company?

It’s not always something that leaders stop to consider, but when your values don’t line up with your organization’s values, your career can feel unfulfilling or even draining.

Perhaps there is an obvious disconnect; for example, you are passionate about the environment and your organization puts profits before environmental stewardship. We’ve talked with leaders who describe their organization’s mission or their corporate goals as “soul-less” or completely contrary to what they personally hold to be important. Working without passion is miserable, but working in ways that are contrary to your belief system also feels duplicitous, inauthentic, draining and heart-breaking.

Other times, leaders feel out of sorts but can’t articulate what is wrong at work. We’ll hear them mention that they don’t feel appreciated or that they’re not feeling they have purpose — they might have an important or high-paid position, but the work they do lacks meaning. That feeling of despair or being disconnected or disengaged happens when your values are out of step with your professional life.

How do you know if a values misalignment is at the root of the problem? Well, figuring out your goals helps you know where you’re headed while knowing your values helps you figure out why. Creating a personal vision statement for your career is one way to evaluate whether decisions align with your values and aspirations. It’s helpful to have clarity around your core values.

Once you’ve done that self-reflection work, consider your company.

How well defined are your organization’s values? When was the last time there was discussion about what the values are and how they can be put into action? We’ve worked with leaders who know the values statement their company hangs on the wall, but who don’t see it being lived up to in practice.

When an organization’s value and vision don’t line up, it’s challenging for leaders to foster a strong and successful organizational culture. There are times when we’ve worked with organizations to clearly define their values and find ways to live them. This way, folks feel the values are attainable — values they support and that align with their own — not just platitudes.

Anyone who drives knows how tires that aren’t aligned can wreak havoc on the vehicle, no matter how carefully you drive. Getting a proper alignment ensures your car will perform better.

Similarly, when values are not aligned, organizations might be able to keep pushing through to some success but it feels like a struggle for those driving. In contrast, life and work feel smooth and satisfying when everyone is working toward the same goals with shared values that are being demonstrated in the day-to-day work.

When your values align with those of your company, benefits include:

  • Feeling motivated to work and inspired that their performance matters
  • Increased employee satisfaction and employee retention
  • Improved teamwork and commitment
  • Better communication (with plenty of good conflict to challenge ideas)
  • Stronger work relationships
  • Increased productivity

When we feel good about priorities and our role in achieving success, we show up and work hard. As leaders, we’re going to be better able to inspire others on our teams to find inspiration and passion in their work.

What happens when your values and company values don’t align? Typically this is when we see:

  • Disgruntled and unhappy leaders and team members
  • Unhealthy competition
  • Poor communication
  • Low productivity and little dedication or accountability
  • Trouble meeting business goals

Realizing that your values are not reflected in the organization where you are a leader is sobering. What now? There are a few options.

  • Try to influence change. As a leader, could you initiate some discussion about company values? Perhaps this is a good time to nudge the organization toward transformation in ways that match the values that matter to you. Change happens when people speak up and advocate for it. Can you suggest a value shift?
  • Take stock and bide your time. It’s possible that you are at a point in your leadership that you can’t make the changes you’d like to see — and it’s not a good time to make a leap to another company. After reviewing positives (perhaps a good salary, flexible work arrangements, better opportunities elsewhere after a few years in this role), the conflicts between your values and the company might be tolerable for now. You can use this time to work toward what you’d like in your career.
  • Look for a new company. If you’ve tried to influence some level of change and you know that it’s highly unlikely that your company will change enough that you can reconcile your life’s work with your personal values, it may be time to consider a career move. There are times that a lateral career move makes sense and this might be one of them. You can prioritize your own core values as you research potential companies. During interviews, you can ask the interviewers to describe the company values and culture, as well as for examples of ways they do things that are important to you. For example, an organization might say they work hard and play hard. If one of your values is to have work-life balance and a fun work environment, that could sound really positive. But what does that look like in practice? Does the boss support flexible work arrangements or value face-time in the office? What does a typical work week look like? How do they celebrate successes?

It’s a struggle when your values no longer line up with your company, but you get to decide what kind of leader you will be.

Coach’s Questions:

How well do you understand your values? Do they align with your organization’s values? Are there ways your company’s values could be refined or changed? What can you do to align your values with your work?