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Monday, 2 May 2016

Why some workplaces don't work for you - Five steps to identifying the fit between organisational & personal values

Five steps to identifying the fit between the organisation's values and your personal workplace values 

Image courtesy of www.slideshare.net

Have you ever joined a new work team and for the first few minutes, hours, days, or weeks wondered if you've accidentally stepped into a new land with no reference points and are struggling to understand the group's social rituals, values, and even their language? 

Or you've started a new job in a large and well respected organisation, completed the mandatory five day induction course and after the first day in your new job gone home to your family and said, "I have no idea what people are talking about in meetings. It's all jargon and acronyms!"

Firstly, don't worry, you aren't alone! 

In transiting from a military environment to a civilian workplace I experienced culture shock for the second time in my life (the first time was when I entered the Navy at 19). I mean, people were turning up to work in jeans and t-shirts (shock, horror!), and the ICT guys wore crumpled clothes that looked like they'd just rolled out of bed (no offence guys, but have you heard of bed hair?).

This form of culture shock can be traumatic if you accidentally land in a workplace, like I did, that explicitly expressed the workplace values and behaviours of respect, collaboration and communication, while the lived experiences were very different. Actual workplace behaviours included outbursts of frustration and anger from my peers, disrespect and underhanded dealings by my supervisor with everyone, implicit aggression from co-workers, and a general fear of making mistakes, which froze everyone from making any real decisions or taking any creative risks. Or talking.

Bullying and harassment were normalised behaviours. In other words, the implicit values, behaviours and attitudes driving the organisation's culture were the antithesis of the explicit values and culture.


How can you avoid falling into this trap?


After this experience I asked myself, how do I avoid accidentally moving into an organisation that appears great on the outside, but is dysfunctional on the inside?  I've figured out a five strategies that, in combination and with a bit of analysis, will help to identify the real values operating in a workplace.


First Step



Created by Dr Lawrence, Stop Workplace Cyberbullying Pty Ltd

It's absolutely critical to figure out your own core workplace values. If you are crystal clear about your own core values, and workplace values, then it's easier to find a workplace that best suits you. This step is vital as you then generate a template of core personal values that you can use to analyse some other information described in the subsequent steps. Some of the questions you can ask yourself include:

I am at my best when [insert your example here]

I am at my worst when [insert your example here]

I am truly happy when 
[insert your example here]


I want to be a person who 
[insert your example here]


What I really love is 
[insert your example here]


What I really hate is 
[insert your example here]


So, if you find that you really love working with friendly, communicative people who enjoy asking lots of questions and are enthusiastic and creative, then your values most likely include respect, collaboration, openness, innovation and integrity. 

Create a spreadsheet and/or write your core workplace values on a piece of paper in the left column. You can use the table I've embedded and located at the end of this post.


Second Step


Google the organisation and read their annual report and other governance documents to find out the in-house and external activities management supports and encourages their staff to do. The employment agreement will also help you gain insight into the types of behaviours expected from staff. 

Write down the behaviours and activities in a spreadsheet (Feel free to use the spreadsheet located the end of this post). Any behaviours that match your values, list these under the column entitled "Matched behaviours identified through my online research." Any behaviours that don't match your values, list these under the column entitled "Mismatched behaviours identified through my online research."

Third Step.


Email and ring or talk to the recruitment officer and ask them questions. These can include: 

- What barriers do you experience as you try to accomplish your work?

- How do you work through these barriers? What processes do you use (e.g., committees, work groups, work shops)

- Are employees represented on Board meetings on employment matters? If so, how are these representatives chosen?

- What is your favourite quality that is present in your company?

- What are the goals of your organisation?

- What is the vision your organisation is seeking to achieve?


List these behaviours in your spreadsheet under one of the columns entitled "Matched" or "Mismatched" behaviours identified through my online research.

Fourth Step.

Then ask the recruitment officer for a short list of partners or sponsors, stakeholders or key clients and customers. 

Alternatively, you can identify these contacts through the organisation's website (via their annual report or other legislatively required documentation). 

Ring these contacts, explain that you're very interested in a career at XX and that you'd love to organise a short 5-10 minute telephone chat at their convenience to discuss their business experiences with XX. Once the 5-10 minute conversation has been organised and is on the way, ask one or more of these questions:


- Where does [the organisation] fit with your business/organisation?

- How does [the organisation] support or enable you? 

- How would you describe their behaviours and value?

- Does the organisation support your efforts to accomplish your work, or do they impede your progress?

- Is there a story or example you can recall that really describes how XX supports your business?

- Write down the behaviours and activities in a spreadsheet, in the second last column next to your values, and link the behaviours with your values. 

*If some behaviours do not link with your core values, place them on the far right corner column.


Step Five.



The interview is possibly the most important indicator of the values held dear by your new organisation as this is the point where everyone is (hopefully) on their best behaviour. 

What constitutes an organisation's "best behaviour" may look and feel a bit weird (at least, from your perspective). 

For example, in one experience, the normalised behaviour in one organisation involved being placed in a disabled car park by the convenor (I thought this was probably illegal(?). While waiting for my interview I was offered a chair in the foyer and asked to read a list of interview questions while people walked in and out chatting (this appeared a bit disrespectful to me). I found myself walking into a messy and tiny interview room and being offered a broken chair (I immediately felt like asking for a new chair but felt a bit awkward at this point). I was then told that one female panel was on "loan" from another organisation due to lack of females in the executive level in that organisation (I really started to feel a bit queasy at this point).

After the interview, write down the behaviours you observed and list these against your core values - do they match your values or are they a mis-match?

Generally speaking, at the conclusion of the interview a reasonable panel will ask if you have any questions. At this point you could ask one or two of the following: 

- What would you tell a friend about your organisation if he or she were about to start working here?

- What stories do current employees tell new employees about your organisation when they join the organisation?

- What is your favourite story, the story you share most frequently, about your organisation?Who is a hero around here? Why?

- What is your favourite quality that is present in your company?

- Who succeeds in your company?

- What kinds of people fail in your organisation?

- What is your favourite question to ask a candidate for a job in your company?

Your analysis


I've created a spreadsheet/table to illustrating the points above and to assist you in your analysis. 


                                          Created by Dr Lawrence, Stop Workplace Cyberbullying Pty Ltd

Note: this table includes a "total" line at the bottom.

I've added this total line as you may find it useful to compare the total of Matched values with Mis-matched values, and then do a bit of thinking. If nothing else, this analysis will help you with a conversation with your future boss and clarify you workplace needs (and wants).

While this process isn't perfect (there is no such thing as a perfect process) it will help you to, firstly, become conscious of your personal and workplace values, and secondly, to determine why your existing workplace is fantastic, or makes you uncomfortable and finally, a mechanism that assists in locating a workplace that better suits you.


Dr Lawrence, the founder of Stop Workplace Cyberbullying, has a BA SSc and PhD in organisational social psychology. She  works with individuals and organisations as a consultant, speaker and trainer. She uses her social science expertise to enhance interactions between organisations and the people who lead and work in them by fostering new insights for diagnosing organisational problems, and build new capabilities and culture. E: felicity.lawrence@connect.qut.edu.au or Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter

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