Should your values determine the organisation you work for?

- October 2018

By Andrew Chartres, Senior Manager at Parbery Consulting.

It’s hard to live your values if you don’t know what they are. A quick google search on ‘how to discover my values’, ‘values and work’, ‘organisational culture’, or ‘corporate values’ and you will probably end up with a list of exercises or questions containing words like:

  • Health
  • Success
  • Adventure
  • Work/life balance
  • Achievement
  • Creativity
  • Making a difference
  • Honesty
  • Professionalism
  • etc.

As useful as these appear, do they really help us to determine what kind of organisation we want to work for or what kind of career path we should choose? From what I can tell, it seems that there are a few people who, from a very young age, know exactly what kind of career or vocation they want and, for better or worse, storm through life and achieve these goals. For the rest of us it seems to be down to opportunity, luck, the need to earn a living or following a natural progression based on our skillset and/or work ethic. Then, after a number of years in various roles, we hit a stopping point, take stock of where life has taken us and think, ‘Is this really where I want to be?’, ‘Am I really happy with the way things have panned out?’. The next issue we are faced with is how to answer these questions and what to do. This is often the point at which ‘values’ enter the picture.

There is nothing wrong with this process or scenario. I think that the issue lies in the tools we use to take the next step and how we use them to navigate what is an extremely important decision-making process. Unless you meet the criteria to be labelled a psychopath (click here if you would like to confirm), most of the ‘values’ you will come across in the lists and exercises available all over the internet, or in training or coaching sessions, will all seem like pretty good things so having to choose particular ‘values’ will require a certain degree of introspection, self-reflection and consideration. That said, when you do select the essentials that will help to guide your life, how can you really be sure that the ones you have chosen are actually the right ones for you? Given that the aim here is to try and determine if our lives are heading in the right direction or if potentially drastic measures are required to plot a new course to save your future self, this is an all-important issue.

About a year ago, I found myself in this situation. I had taken stock, chosen my words, decided I needed a change and was ready to take action. The only thing was, I didn’t feel like I knew any more than before. I had chosen gratifying nouns, done exercises involving circles and segments breaking aspects of my life into a kind of scorecard or performance matrix, and thought deeply about where I wanted to be if I could choose. Still nothing. No idea what I really wanted to do.

This is where organisational culture comes into the picture. It wasn’t any of the above that helped me to choose my next step. It was my interactions and conversations with real people that helped my make my decision. I had by this stage been to multiple interviews across the public and private sector, and even offered a few jobs, but it was one conversation in particular though that hit me. I had a chat with an individual I had worked with a few years before, while he was doing some cost modelling as a management consultant for a government agency I was employed with at the time. I won’t bore you with all the details, but the initial conversation made a lasting impression on me (I had messaged him while he happened to be driving to Melbourne and he had pulled over and called me straight back to chat about a small consultancy company he had just started, with a staff profile of approximately one FTE). I realised that, for me at least, talking to someone and sharing ideas and views was a far better indicator for understating how I felt about a job or an organisation (albeit a small one in this case), than anything I had come across before. I was able to grasp the kind of organisational culture that was going to be fostered, and the inherent value and the values that would be the foundation of the organisation. Some of this was explicitly communicated, but much was material that I felt on a more intuitive level. I went with my gut and now, almost 12 months down the track, I know that I made the right decision.

Anyway, the point I think I am trying to make is that organisational culture and values are important. They do make a big difference to your (insert noun here). The way you find the right fit for you though is probably not going to be as straight forward as choosing a preset number of words and then trying to find a company with a congruent value system or mission statement. For many of us it will be about the interaction with the people we meet, work with, inherently trust, and sometimes just going with your gut.

So, in answer to my initial question, ‘Should your values determine the organisation you work for?’, I believe the answer is: Yes. You may not know what those values are until you have already found the right organisation, and even then they may be somewhat immutable, but you will know what feels right for you (although gut instinct certainly isn’t everything!). Having said that, I’m sure you could reverse engineer the process to come up with five pleasantly paltry nouns if it makes you feel better.