Career Advice, Insights

5 Questions To Ask To Find Out If A Company Lives Its Values

Mature female business owner looking at coworkers smart phone while working in design studio

It’s a common held belief that if your employer’s values are aligned with your own, you will find greater meaning in your work.

When you’re job hunting online, you usually refine your search by salary band, job title, seniority or geographical location. All of these are of course important practical criteria, but what about refining your search by organisations that share your values? Being connected with a company’s values brings meaning to our working lives and it is undoubtedly the case that meaningful work contributes to our overall wellbeing.

People are quick to generalise about millennials and Gen-Z, and sometimes these claims are not properly supported. However, it seems undeniable that young people – more so than their older peers – are looking for more meaning and purpose in the work they do and the careers they pursue. 

RELATED: Company Mission and Culture Matter More Than Salary

Recognising the crucial role of values, The Institute of Leadership & Management undertook its latest research in partnership with Glassdoor, ‘Colliding or Aligning: Reconciling Personal and Organisational Values’, in which it asked leaders and managers about organisational values and their own personal values. 

Not surprisingly, there was a disconnect. Only 35% of respondents reported being involved in deciding their organisation’s values, and fewer than 10% of respondents reported any consultation with customers or stakeholders outside the organisation. The majority of organisations decide their values at Board and executive management level. In fact, the only people with significant involvement were those in senior management teams, which means almost total exclusion of younger voices, notably the millennials whom we hear so frequently seek meaning in work.

When applying for a job, it’s likely you’ll look on the company website and Glassdoor page to find out the company’s values. However, the interview is the best place to really understand a company’s values – and if it lives by them. Here are five important questions to ask to help you do this. 

Are People Encouraged To Be Individuals? 

To really drill down into authenticity, find out whether people are allowed to be true to themselves in the workplace. The importance of consistency between our values and our behaviour was highlighted in 1957 by Leon Festinger. He described a lack of alignment as ‘cognitive dissonance’, a state that most humans find uncomfortable and seek to reduce by changing either beliefs or behaviour to close that gap. If authenticity is stated as a value, explore the extent to which individuality is celebrated in your new organisation, how inclusive a workplace is it, what steps are taken to build trust? 

What Does The Future of the Company Look Like?

Many companies have values around vision and innovation, but it’s important to ask your future employer to articulate their 5, 10 or even 20 year plan to enable you to assess whether you are confident in joining them on that journey. Where have they set out their vision, how has it been communicated, where are they on that trajectory? Ask the interviewer what their role is in achieving the vision and how your role would fit in.

How Do You Measure Achievement? 

This question is really asking whether a company takes a more holistic view of achievement or whether it is all about the measures that have numerical values. Does the business look at other ways of measuring achievements; such as personal development, trust and engagement? 

Would My Goals Be Separate to That of The Wider Team?

This is a great question to find out the view the organisation has of ownership and tells you a lot about their approach to motivation, incentives and recognition. Does the company reward on an individual or a team level? Are there individual and team incentives? How will I know that the job I’m doing is really making a contribution to the company and, if it’s important to you, to society more broadly? 

How Do You Facilitate Teamwork?

‘Works well as part of a team’ is often a requirement in any job ad, therefore it is important for you to find out how the company enables collaboration between people and between teams. Ask how the company helps people to work together, or how managers go about building trust in teams and developing the social relationships so crucial to a high performing team. This question would be particularly important if you will become part of a flexible working team. Find out how the business builds that important social glue among home-workers and office-based teams. 

Any claim that a company makes about its values is something you should take the opportunity to explore in an interview. Not only does it demonstrate that you have done your homework, but also that you’re somebody for whom values are important. These five questions will give you a good idea of how a company approaches its values, but don’t be afraid to dig further if you’re unsatisfied with their responses. It’s important to find a job that fits all areas of your life, after all.

Kate Cooper is Head of Research, Policy & Standards at The Institute of Leadership & Management

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