Living Your Values at Work

“The most important thing in life is to decide what’s most important”

Ken Blanchard  


 People don’t seem to write or talk much about values anymore, do they?

 Yes, the word value is often used – creating value, adding value, etc., but what does it really mean to the user?  While most organizations still use values words in their mission statements, most people don’t pay attention to them. Let’s face it – we’re cynical about values.  Other people’s values.  But not our own.  This post isn’t about overused and unrealized mission statement values. Or attaching some unquantifiable asset to a brand or skill-set.   Our focus here is on personal values.  Individual values.  Your values and mine.   We’re not cynical about those values, are we?  Maybe we just don’t give them as much thought as we used to.
 But we should.
 Why should our values matter to us?  Because our values are one of the most potent forces in our lives.  These intangibles motivate and drive us in our work.  They inform all of our decisions.  Along with our beliefs and feelings, values form our internal map of reality.  Our values are powerful because they supply our work (and everything else in our lives) with meaning.  Real meaning.   Meaning that has purpose and depth that reflects who we are in the world.  Without them, we get attached (some might say – fixated) to external motivators and rewards.  We go on a kind of Pavlovian auto-pilot.  Without a strong sense of our values guiding and supporting us, we can also get caught up in other people’s values – spouses, colleagues, partners, families, cultures.  There is nothing wrong with that except that without awareness of how to recognize and satisfy our own core values, we can lose our way and find ourselves working in the service of someone else’s causes and goals.

 Digging for Gold

 It’s easy to be cynical about using words and calling them values.  But values – real values – are fundamental to our purpose as human beings.  When we consciously choose to understand them – and the behaviors they drive – a whole range of new choices can open to us.   

 In our work in organizations, we are always talking to people about their values.  Sometimes, they seem surprised. Like someone has come on an archeological dig and asked them to unearth their deeper selves.  For some people, what’s important to them about their work – what drives and satisfies them – is right at the tip of their tongues.  They’re eager to share what’s meaningful about their work.  For others, some deeper drilling is required to pull out those valuable gold nuggets of meaning.

When we become consciously aware of our values – when we make the connections to the feelings that they generate – and understand what behaviors reinforce them, we can experience that Eureka moment of striking gold.   Identifying what’s deeply important to us is one thing, living it is quite another. 

Values in Conflict

 There is a powerful reliability factor in the following “formula” – tap into your core values and connect them with your daily reality – and you will discover a reservoir of energy that you can revisit time and again for replenishment.  But it has to be real. No BS works. In fact, this “system” has a built-in BS detector.  Let’s say, authenticity, is one your core work values.  If you find yourself playing office politics by agreeing to something that violates that value – you can rely on your emotions to let you know where you are on your values meter.  Feelings don’t lie.  If you act in ways that are inauthentic, that are, in conflict with your value – your emotional response may be, anger (at yourself or others), shame, guilt or disappointment.  While you may try to talk yourself out of it (“I have to play politics with this guy. He wouldn’t understand if I shared my real views. There would be pushback.”) at your core, no whitewashing the truth will suffice.    We’re always getting feedback from our values system, unfortunately, we often choose to either override it or ignore it.

 One Size Does Not Fit All

 It’s important to note that we don’t all express our (behaviorally) values in the same ways.   Consider this example: one thing we often find when working with inter-generational teams are people who will say, “I’m having a difficult time working with so and so because I have a strong work ethic and they don’t.”  Work ethic is indeed a value but how we experience and demonstrate the behavioral equivalent of that value can be very diverse.  Inherent in their statement is often a judgment that the values are not just different, but one is better than the other.  Unless we understand what our values are – and how we express them (behaviorally) or don’t, we can project them on to our colleagues.  Assumptions and expectations are formed (often out of our conscious awareness) and are often wrong.  So if you are a manager or team member or have close working relationships with others, it can be valuable to gain a better, more specific understanding of what’s important to them. What are their values – and how do they express them?  If someone is working for you – it’s smart to know how they know their values are being satisfied.  That way, you can provide them with experiences that enrich their values and create shared values. 

 Identifying and Prioritizing Your Values

Working with your values is a process.  It requires that you take the time to carefully explore where you are and what you want.  According to blogger Steve Pavlina, “your values are your current estimation of your truth.”  Living with conscious awareness of your values means that you living in closer alignment with your purpose.

There are many ways to do what’s called “values clarification.” The following process forms the foundation for beginning to work with your values.

3 Step Process to Identify Your Core Values
1. Start  eliciting a list of your top 10 values by asking yourself: (for a sample values list look here)

What is important to me about life?

2. Once you have your list – revisit it and prioritize your values in order of importance to you. 

3. For each value ask yourself:

Why is this important to me?  Write down your responses

 You can vary this exercise by:

  • Creating one master “life” list and then creating separate lists for key areas or;
  • Creating separate lists for key areas in your life: work, relationships (you can break that down to separate roles as well), family, parenting, etc. and then comparing them

Once you’ve completed this process you may want to continue by connecting a list of your goals to your values. The more you understand about your hierarchy of values, what values you are satisfying and which you are in conflict with, your goals list will shift to work with your list of values. 
Most of us waste lots of precious energy and time being distracted by things that do not satisfy our deeper purpose.  When we actively engage in a congruent relationship with our values,  we begin to generate more positive and supportive feelings that drive a whole new set of results. Even when we “miss the mark,” the fact that we aimed in the right direction can be a reward in itself.

Thanks for reading!

Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants

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