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Do personal and organisational values align or collide?

Kate Cooper, The Institute of Leadership & Management
January 6, 2020

Canadian psychoanalyst and management consultant, Elliot Jaques, was one of the first to recognise the importance of values in organisations. Since then, many academics and practitioners have identified the importance of values, devised tools and models to calculate and describe them and, more recently, marketing professionals have considered articulation of brand values as essential. It’s increasingly recognised that brands are no longer owned and controlled by the organisations who have the copyright of the trademark of the brand, but that brands are defined by all stakeholders, those who feel they share a sense of the values the brand represents to them.

This time of year is often a moment to reflect on our achievements of this year and our goals for the next. In January 2019, The Institute of Leadership & Management asked over 1400 leaders and managers about their career aspirations and ambitions for 2019. One in three respondents expressed a desire to change their job this year. Nearly three quarters were motivated to make a new start because they felt they could achieve more in their careers. When we further explored the reasons that people gave for wanting to change their jobs, many felt that they were not valued by their managers.

Although many of us know what it feels like when we are valued, it is quite difficult to articulate. It is sometimes easier to talk about pay rises, promotions and training opportunities rather than admit we don’t feel recognised and appreciated for the work we do.

It is undoubtedly the case that meaningful work contributes to overall wellbeing. In 2017, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce, published a report entitled, ‘Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices’. The report outlined “seven steps towards fair and decent work with realistic scope for development and fulfilment”. Taylor’s seven steps recommend we define who is a ‘worker’, pay attention to the minimum wage and the impact of piece work and zero hours contracts not only on pay but also on holiday and sick pay. Surely the next step has to be consideration of values and how we find meaning in our work? But, as we all know, however important to our working day, the whole idea of values and their role in organisational life extends beyond the basic of good work and the feeling of being valued by managers and colleagues - values underpin our entire lives.

Recognising this crucial role of values, The Institute of Leadership & Management undertook recently published research asking leaders and managers about organisational values and their own personal values. Not surprisingly, there was a disconnect. Only 35% of respondents reported being involved in deciding their organisation’s values and fewer than 10% of respondents reported any consultation with customers or stakeholders outside the organisation.

The majority of organisations decide their values at Board and executive management level. The only people with significant involvement were people in senior management teams, which meant almost total exclusion of younger voices, the Millennials who we hear so frequently seek meaning in work. Delivering a presentation at a recent Institute conference, Mike Fetters of Glassdoor emphasised how important a company’s values are when attracting new, talented people to work there. Does this disconnect, this exclusion from the formulation of the values that senior management expect employees to live and behave in accordance with, matter? It certainly challenges the idea of finding meaning in our work, being fully engaged and going that important ‘extra mile’ we hear so much about.

In 1957, Leon Festinger highlighted the importance of consistency with our values and behaviour, describing a lack of alignment as ‘cognitive dissonance’, a state that most humans find uncomfortable and seek to reduce by changing either beliefs or behaviour to close that gap. The most commonly cited value in The Institute research was ‘integrity’. Few individuals would disagree with the importance of integrity, females rated it first as a personal value, even more highly than males who put it 2nd after ‘doing the right thing’. But integrity has many meanings, not only is it a recognition of a strong moral compass, it also means being undivided, being whole. If, as our research seems to suggest, there is an inconsistency with our personal values and the values of the organisations we work for, we will not feel ‘whole’ and this may certainly impact mental health.

So as the new decade begins, take some time to revisit your own values and whether they align with your organisation’s, examine the role of work in both our own and our employees’ lives and appreciate the strong connection between values and wellbeing both at work and at home.

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