One great thing about presidential elections is that it’s the perfect time for people from all walks of life to come together and have intelligent, respectful debates around the important issues facing the country.

Luckily, this year we got to skip right past all of that boring stuff and jump straight into the time honored tradition of email espionage, sex scandals, and accusations of using performance enhancing drugs during debates.

Wow.

And it’s not surprising that everyone watching is getting riled up in the process, too.

This year, perhaps more than any other, the election seems focused on the most fundamental aspects of each candidate’s being: their character and values.

Honesty, equality, empathy, respect, basic human decency. All of these have been key topics in this fist fight for the presidency.

When these items come up, we get emotional. It goes way deeper than arguing about whether your taxes will go up or down by 10%. Not to say things like taxes aren’t important, it’s just that facts and figures don’t hit quite the same mental nerve as emotional judgements.

Note that this article isn’t about taking sides in the election. I think we can all agree that whichever candidate is most qualified, and hasn’t completely imploded by November 8th will win. And I’m sure when that day comes she’ll do a great job.

The point, though, is that values are important when it comes to politics. Probably more important than any given policy.

So, if we’re ready and willing to get fired up about values in politics, shouldn’t we apply a similar standard to the values we expect in our work?

Why Values Are #1

In 2009, Right Management performed a survey of over 28,000 employees across 15 countries to measure what most drives employee engagement. Of 91 possible factors, the top 5 were:

  1. I am committed to my organization’s core values
  2. Our customers think highly of our products and services
  3. My opinions count
  4. I have a clear understanding of what is expected of me at work
  5. I understand how I can contribute to meeting the needs of our customers

For the same reasons we expect our country’s leaders to represent the values we think are most important, we want to feel that way about our work too.

One explanation for this thinking is the concept of the “ideal self”. This “ideal self” represents the best version of ourselves and defines who we would like to be, from our ambitions to our behaviors and values.

Unfortunately, we can’t always live up to that ideal standard. When we fall short, it creates incongruence, or inconsistency, with what we expect from ourselves. The greater that inconsistency becomes, the more anxiety and dissatisfaction we feel in our lives.

So, when we are consistent with values that align with our “ideal self”, we’re much more likely to feel satisfied and engaged — whether those feelings are related to our workplace or our country.

The Personal Side of a Company’s Foundation

At the strategy consultancy I co-founded, Map & Fire, we always start the strategy definition process with Purpose (you can read more about the Lean Strategy process on our website).

In our process, Purpose consists of four components:

  1. Core Purpose: Why does the company exist in a fundamental sense?
  2. Core Values: How will we conduct ourselves no matter what we’re doing?
  3. Vision Statement: What if we achieve everything we’ve set out to do? What will the world look like?
  4. Big Goals: What big wins are we working toward on the path to the vision?

Of all those foundational items, Core Values are arguably the most personal as they’re not about your business activities but rather how you’ll behave as you’re conducting business.

Just as your “ideal self” represents you at your best, your “ideal company” is one in which your Core Values guide behavior and help everyone on your team perform at their best.

And as the study above shows, when people feel aligned with and committed to those values then satisfaction and engagement levels go up.

If You’re in Charge of the Values For Your Business

If you’re a business owner, there are lots of reasons why it’s beneficial to define your company’s values, including:

  • Guide both what the company will and won’t do
  • Establish accountability for standards within the team
  • Help ensure a high level of service for your customers
  • Provide an additional measure to evaluate individual performance
  • Attract candidates that are a good cultural fit when hiring
  • Accelerate the on-boarding process for new hires
  • And as the study above shows, develop a more engaged team (that’s huge)

Now, simply defining your values isn’t sufficient to reap all of that return. You also have to make it very clear that they’re a real part of how your company will operate. This means sharing the values with the team, making sure they’re well-understood, and ultimately holding everyone (including yourself) accountable for fulfilling them.

While that does take some effort to accomplish, the returns outlined above still far outweigh the investment it takes to integrate them into your business.

And If You’re Not in Charge of Setting the Values?…

Does the company you work for have a clear set of values? Do people rally around the values (good), or does everyone just sort of do their own thing (bad)?

If your company doesn’t have a clear set of values, you can still go through the exercise of thinking about what you perceive those values to be.

Ultimately a company’s values are shown through the actions it takes, so you should be able to infer the actual company values even if the ideal company values aren’t hanging up in every cubicle.

Whether your company provides them or you approximate them yourself, you can evaluate:

  • Are the values of your company in alignment with your own?
  • If they are in alignment, how does that affect your satisfaction with your job? Are you more engaged because of it? Do you go above and beyond without being asked?
  • If they’re not in alignment, does it lead to dissatisfaction with your work? Are you disengaged? Do you do the bare minimum just to get by?

Most people have an inherent sense of the values at their job, but unless you or whoever’s in charge takes the time to articulate and share them, it’s hard to know if you’re aligned with them and how they’re impacting your job performance and life in general.

If you do feel aligned and satisfied, that’s awesome! If you don’t, it may be worth thinking about whether you could improve your current situation by helping to establish a solid set of values at your company — or possibly by seeking out an environment where you feel stronger alignment.

Life’s too short, and we spend too much time at our jobs, to just clock in and out unsatisfied.

Feeling misaligned with the values of your country can make you feel helpless, feeling misaligned at your job is something you can control.

A Free and Easy Way to Define Your Values

If you’d like some help defining Core Values for your company (or yourself), we’ve created a free worksheet to walk you through the definition process. It’ll help you define your Core Purpose, Vision, and Goals, too.

If you’ve ever had a particularly good or bad experience with values (or lack of) at work, leave a comment! And if you think our country’s values are out of whack, well…maybe try convincing your Facebook friends to change their political point of view (that never fails!).

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