What are values and why are they important? Because values are basic assumptions, we are often not aware of our individual truths. We tend to focus on what society, social media, and external forces say they should be such as being the best, looking good, or wealth.
Given that 7 in 10 Americans use social media to engage in news content and connect with one another, it’s no surprise that our values are hard to find amidst messages inundated with perfection, abundance, and popularity. However, values are not presumptions, but rather subtle and implicit.
Values are who you are in your life today, not who you would like to be or who you think you should be. They define what is most important to us and form the basis for what we will and will not do.
As a career coach for young professionals, I regularly consult with clients who are starting their first jobs and transitioning into new careers and one of my favorite exercises to do with clients is to have them identify their core values. Many go into it with a preconceived idea of what they think their tenets should be, but walk away with an “aha, this is really who I am” moment. My “aha” moment came to me with my own career coach when, I discovered that my number one value is human connection. By ignoring my core value, I had lost my livelihood and sense of self-actualization in my job that was analytical and data-driven. In that moment, I knew that I had to make a change because when your work and behavior match your values, life is fulfilling.
If you are feeling dissatisfied at work and having trouble understanding why, I would suggest checking in with yourself to identify your core values and assess whether they complement those of your employer. Below are three steps to help create alignment between values and work:
1. Take time to identify your personal core values
While I recommend working with a coach to help dig and name your principles, below are some key questions to start asking yourself:
- Describe your peak experience. What were you doing? What values were being implemented?
- Think of a time you were frustrated or angry: what was happening? What values were being suppressed?
- When making your most significant decisions, what are the fundamentals you base them on?
- What is one thing you would like to be remembered for when you die?
- What things, if taken away from you, would make life unbearable?
Review your answers and observe themes to determine your top values. What are crucial to your life and constitute your primary way of being? How are your personal principles practiced in your work today?
2. Familiarize yourself with your organization’s values
This may be less straight-forward for you to identify, but do your best to speak the truth to your experience. An organization’s values set the tone for workplace culture and pinpoint what the company cares about. Research suggests that companies with an authentic set of values that are consistent with employees’ values have greater team coherence and productivity. If your company does not have a published list, ask your boss or manager, or reflect on your personal experience. Some questions that help define company values are:
- What matters most to your firm?
- Where does your company invest its resources?
- When has your organization felt most alive?
Review your answers and observe themes to determine top values. What represents the main actions your firm will stand by? Which values are vital to your work environment?
3. Create an action plan
Are you practicing your personal values in your work? Are your personal values consistent with your organization’s values? If not, identify the disconnect and create an action plan. Ignoring the issue can create tension and resentment. If “challenge” is a personal truth that is not being carried out day-to-day, find a way to honor it. If your personal values are misaligned with your organization’s values, either (1) choose to work in an environment with greater alignment or (2) see the disconnect as an opportunity to further develop into your own leadership and help the company evolve. Be bold and communicate with your boss or management about where you see and potential for firm to progress. With this, you will have a new understanding of company’s willingness to revolutionize or stay stagnant.
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Bottom line: when your values are honored each day, life is fulfilling. Find time to identify your personal and organization’s values and create an action plan to find congruence.
Elizabeth Smithburg is a career coach who helps professionals gain clarity on their goals, values, and strengths and provides guidance on how to make goals actionable and real. After spending nearly a decade pushing to climb the corporate ladder out of fear of change or failure, she knows the anxiety surrounding questions like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” or, “What is your life purpose?” Through her own coach, she found her natural gift of helping people realize their dreams through the human connection. She believes: (i) in data and is committed to giving you quantifiable results, (ii) that your untapped natural strengths are more powerful than correcting your weaknesses, and (iii) that your greatest investment is an investment in yourself.
Currently, she is completing her certification to become a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach through Coaches Training Institute. She holds a BA in Economics from Middlebury College and lives in Chicago with her husband, Tommy and dog, Rocky.
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