I was asked a tricky question the other day. The question was: ” What would I do if I felt that the values of the organization I worked for were not in line with my own”?
As I said at the time the question led to so many other questions it was hard to unpack it in order to answer it easily. What did the questioner have in mind. How big was the mis-alignment, both in scope and effect. It was a great question.
My initial response was and is that I would find it hard to believe personally that the values of an organization I worked for would differ materially from my own. Thankfully I do not think have ever been in that position. Since then however, I have spoken about the incident to my “millennial” son, who tells me that his generation are constantly faced with this issue. I realise now that my answer demanded further inquiry and consideration.
My son pointed out that his generation is accustomed to a plethora of information on social media about how an organisation’s actions can have damaging external impacts. The result of this is that his generation is highly alert to potential misconduct. Definitely more that my generation of Babyboomers were, by the time the internet came along my generation were arguably in a position to try and influence opinions in our organisations.
Let’s take a consulting company for instance, it may work for a tobacco company, some consultants may not wish to act for such a company as they disagree with how it makes profits on health grounds. What about a telecommunications company that knowingly leaves you on an old tariff when they have a better deal they could move you onto. . You may argue that you are only a consulting company and any other firm could take that assignment, so it is OK? What if it is your company (and you did not realise the difference when you started). Does that make a difference?
Arguably, there are value decisions to be made every day. For millennials, my son felt it isn’t a question of if there will be values issue, but how many, and how will the organisation react if I speak out?
That indeed takes me back to the original question: what would I do if they were not?.
My preferred option, would be to try and effect change. If you are in a leading position that may actually be one of the reasons you were hired, perhaps the only reason. If you are not, what avenues exist for effecting change? Can any ways be created? What chance do you have of making a change? Would a change be welcomed by the organization? How much are voices of all members of the team heard? How long will change take?
Conversely, if you are a leader of such an organisation – what guidance and credence are you giving to such issues?
Speaking to my preferred option, I would hope your organisations are run by people who will recognise that retaining a young and vibrant work force will mean listening to and understanding those views, taking them onboard where, and to the extent, possible and ensuring the appropriate alignment.
There has been so much written on this subject that I can only point you in the general direction in this blog. There are many articles freely available on the internet. They highlight the difficulties and choices. Two examples from The Harvard Business Review would be “When your values clash with your company’s by Charalambos Viachoutsicos, January 31, 2013, click here and “How to speak up about ethical issues at work” by Amy Gallo, June 4, 2015, click here.
A second option may be to live with the differences. Are they capable of being lived with? What are your core values? I suspect there will rarely be complete alignment. Living with the differences, if material, is, in my view, unlikely to be a long term option. If the organisation’s values are going to affect materially how you act and work, even in the short term, I doubt it is going be an option at all.
The third and final option would be to leave. If the delta is so great and so material, if you have no way to effect change, then, for your own sanity and health, I believe those differences cannot be tolerated in the long term. I would hope and expect that you would never find yourself in that position, that may be a naive view, even today
I recognise however that what I have said so far in relation to the options may be a counsel of perfection. Most of us, I suspect may live and work in the world hoping that we can effect change or live with the differences. Many more may say, “ there is nothing I can do – it is above my pay grade”. How you address this issue will be governed by your own values and situation.
I believe you will be happiest (and you deserve to be happy at work) if your values and the organization’s values are closely aligned. I also believe that you should, if you can, try to effect change. In the meantime any differences will really force you to consider what are your core values and to what extent can you continue to observe them?
A simple example of living with a difference, admittedly in what some may think of as a non-controversial area, would be re-cycling. My wife believes in this passionately and lobbies her firm to adopt more re-cycling, non-use of plastic bottles and cutlery etc with limited success. However, she can control what she does and she can actively re-cycle aluminum and glass generated by partners meetings she attends rather than it go in landfill. In time she hopes they will do more but in the meantime she can do what she can. By her example she may also encourage other to do more.
If you cannot effect change, or do not wish to try, you may indeed eventually want to leave but I hope that will not be the case, I wish you well and I believe your firm will be stronger for embracing the change.