Values Alignment and Fit

Sharing stories with a group of friends the other day, we suddenly realized that we had all left “great” jobs at one time or another for what we considered ethical reasons. In digging a little deeper, it became apparent that the disconnect we experienced was more a misalignment of values than any real unethical behavior on the part of our respective former employers. They just didn’t share certain values that we considered very important.

a button with the definition of values

In more than one case, the organizations in question had not explicitly stated the values they operated under and so it took some time to figure out what they were and decide whether there was a good fit. In other cases, expressed corporate values were inconsistent with the employee behavior that was most frequently rewarded.  In every instance, however, once the clash between organizational and personal values became intolerable, we all moved on. But many people don’t move on. They just check out.

Why Values Alignment Matters

Pamela Slim, award-winning author, business coach and speaker pulls no punches, maintaining that

“values mis-match is the biggest cause of angst, dissatisfaction and conflict in the workplace.”

In her blog[1], Ms. Slim offers the following process to help people determine whether the job they have is aligned with their values.

First answer the following questions:

  1. What do you value?
    • Brainstorm a list of values.
    • Review the list, choose the top five, and create a definition for each.
  2. What do you believe?
    • List the top five things you know for sure about your life, yourself and your career.
  3. Why do you believe them?
    • Describe the life experiences that have shaped your values and beliefs.
  4. Whom do you care deeply about serving?
    • Who are the people you want to impact?
    • Why are they important to you?
    • What will happen in their lives as a result of your support?
  5. Which problems do you want to solve?
    • What do you want to fix?
    • What could be made better in the world with your help?
  6. What drives you to act?
    • Which thoughts, feelings, circumstances or beliefs drive you to act?

Once you’ve answered them, look at your current work situation and ask a few more:

  • Are you in a role where you can act according to your values and beliefs?
  • Are you serving those who you care most about serving?
  • Are you making an impact on problems and issues you want to solve?
  • Are you set up for success, so you have the support you need to take action?

If you decide, like my friends and I did at various times in our careers, that it’s time to move on due to a values mis-fit, take the time go through this same exercise before accepting an offer from your next employer!

Values Alignment Matters to Employers Too

From an employer’s perspective, values alignment is the heart of culture and engagement. And yet, many companies fail to identify and articulate their values. Of course, this doesn’t mean they don’t have values, every organization does. But it does mean that the organization’s employees, and possibly even leaders, don’t know what the company stands for, explicitly. Over time, employees will infer company values based on practice, policy and the personality of leaders. Inference and assumption leads to inconsistency and confusion—at worst, apathy when overt contradictions emerge. Losing someone with conflicting values is not the worst thing that can happen to an organization, but having them stay once they’ve disengaged can be.

To reduce “the biggest cause of angst, dissatisfaction and conflict in the workplace,” organizations must take the time to clarify and communicate the values they believe in. These are the values that define the culture and drive the vision. These are the values that leaders, managers and employees will live and work with every day.

Once values have been defined, reinforce them by:

  • Putting the company’s values front and center in all corporate communication.
  • Living the values, not just paying lip-service.
  • Incorporating organizational values into all stages of recruiting and hiring.
  • Linking peer and public recognition to company values.
  • Connecting personal, team and corporate goals to company values.
  • Recognizing employees who exemplify company values and support company culture every day.
  • Tying corporate values directly to the formal performance management process.
  • Collaboratively updating corporate values as the culture and marketplace evolves and change is needed.

Fit Goes Two Ways

Employees and employers both benefit when personal values are aligned with corporate values. Finding that fit is a two-way street. Leaders need to step up and articulate the values they believe best define the culture and drive the vision of the organization. They must demonstrate and communicate these values and the culture they support; within the organization and to the marketplace. Current and future employees need to take the time to identify their own values and what matters to them personally—and then look for opportunities in organizations with corresponding values.


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Photo credit: Photo by Stuart Miles, courtesy of


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