Our personal values are our core principles. They are what we believe is important and they guide how we evaluate situations and make decisions. They serve as an internal moral compass. Our values are formed early- shaped by our experiences and influenced by important people in our lives. It isn’t always easy to articulate exactly what our values are, but when something doesn’t align with our personal values- we feel uncomfortable.
Company values are like personal values. They are the foundation of what the company believes is important. They help companies make decisions, stay on track with a strategy, and know when an idea or person isn’t a good fit for the organization. The collective personal values of individuals who make up a company help shape the company’s culture.
How can you evaluate whether a potential employer is a good fit for your values? What if you are faced with a professional situation that doesn’t align with your personal values? If you want to be a successful business owner, is it inevitable that you’ll have to make decisions that go against your personal values?
Let’s break this important issue down.
When there is a direct conflict between our personal values and those of our employer- we are faced with ongoing personal struggles or even ethical dilemmas. That misalignment is a perfect recipe for loads of stress and frustration. Should we always live by our personal values no matter the consequences? Or should we dutifully align with company values- even when we know they conflict with our own? And the age-old question- is it ok to put personal values aside to see more success in our professional lives?
First, you must know what your values are. What do you need from your employer so you can show up as your best self and contribute at your full potential? As a business owner, what do you want your community to know is important to your company? How do you want your employees, customers, or investors to feel when they interact with you or your company?
To help answer these questions, think about jobs that gave you positive vibes vs. jobs where you felt stressed out or unappreciated. Make a list of the major differences between the two companies/jobs. What did the company do to help or hinder your professional growth? What made you feel valued, as a human being? What helped you excel in your job, and what actions were demotivating? This list should help you begin to identify what you value most and create a list of your professional non-negotiables.
Knowing your values and non-negotiables will help you know what questions to ask of a potential employer. For example, if remote work is something you place a high value on- be sure you ask specific questions about the company policies for remote work during the interview process. Is at the employee’s discretion or on a case-by-case basis with manager approval? Are remote work policies a company-wide standard, or do they vary by department and manager? If diversity, equity, and inclusion are concepts you value in your career, ask for specific examples of the company’s DEI efforts. If you place high value on professional development opportunities, ask if there is an annual budget for employee development and how that budget is allocated. Being considered for a role you really want is exciting- just be careful your excitement doesn’t cloud your thinking. Because once you have accepted a role, you have agreed to the company’s values and making changes in the near term may not be easy.
What if you’re the business owner and you are faced with a decision that has the potential to make you millions of dollars in profit? Unfortunately, it isn’t an easy decision because you know there are consequences to evaluate on both sides. On one hand, you know the extra influx of cash will help you achieve all your business goals and set you up for a solid future. On the other hand, making this decision could bring harm to something you place a high value on in your personal life. What should you do? If you find yourself in a tough position like this, here are some important questions to ask yourself:
- Are the short-term gains of a decision going to be worth potential long-term consequences?
- Am I willing to accept the possibility of reputational risk to my company?
- Will my current (and future) employees, peers, investors, or business associates view me favorably if I make a decision that goes against my personal values?
- Am I willing to live with the stress of being out of alignment with my personal values?
If the answer to any of these questions is a hard “no”, then it may be time to think long and hard about your next move. Consult people you trust to help you see through your blind spots. The last thing you want is to be viewed as unethical, uncaring, or even incompetent. It can be hard to recover from people’s negative perceptions.
In today’s world, employees and customers are looking more closely at a company’s alignment with the things they care about. Glassdoor conducted a survey in 2019 where they asked 5,000 job seekers from various countries about the importance of company culture. Over half of the respondents said workplace culture was more important to them than the pay. 79% of survey respondents said they would look for alignment with the company’s mission and purpose before they would consider applying for a job. In this hiring market, we simply can’t afford to dismiss a large percentage of the workforce. Values shape culture, and culture is something we simply must pay attention to.
Beyond the personal discomfort we feel when we go against our values, the wrong move in business can cost you talented employees, ignite a social media firestorm, and even do irreparable damage to your company. Whether you think it is right or wrong, it is more important than ever to be sure you can defend your company’s decisions in the court of public opinion. That is much harder to do when the decisions don’t align with your personal values.
So, if anyone says you’ll have to compromise your personal values to be successful in business- simply stated, they are wrong. We always have the choice to live in harmony with our values- and our business success, personal health, and happiness will ultimately be better for it.