Values Alignment: What it is, Why it Matters, and 4 Steps to Get More of It!

53819053Modern leadership “jargon” includes this phrase, “Values Alignment.”  We all toss it around like 1) everyone knows what it means, and 2)  everyone knows how to achieve it.   In my experience, neither point is usually true.  So lets dive in…


What are values?  The Oxford dictionary  gives us,  “a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life….”  That hits it about right.  Principles that represent the judgment about what is important – not just in a single context or situation, but in life overall.

A key distinction, is that we all have values that are not situational – and these deeper values drive us in a powerful way.  For example,  honesty is a core value for many.  One of the fundamental values I have is  that people deserve love and respect.  We all have a number of these core values.   Think on this a minute – can you state your core values?  Write them down!

Core or Not Core?   Core values are those values that you would give everything to protect.  It is not easy to boil your various beliefs and values down to the core.  As you come up with an idea, ask yourself if you could live without that value – if you can, it is not core.  For example, one of my not-core values is that time is valuable, so meetings should be effective.  But I would not fight to my last breath for an effective meeting!  So this is not a core value – other things are more important.

Values in Conflict

Major differences in core, fundamental values drive conflict.  It is inevitable.  The conflict might be “inner” – causing dissatisfaction, disengagement, and other things beginning with “dis-.”  In extreme cases it can be external – the newspapers are full of this kind of outward verbal or physical conflict.

Don’t think you and your team are any exception.  Don’t think you can somehow manage or finesse your way through major core value disagreements.  Core values are those things someone would protect at all costs.  No cleverness can make up for opposing core values.

Values Alignment

“Values Alignment” is not just an absence of value conflict.  There isn’t much inspiration or energy in a “sort-of aligned” state.  Close alignment on core values, however,  binds your team into a tribe, builds energy for the important work ahead.  Think of it as value “resonance,” similar to when a sound wave causes the structural parts of an object to vibrate together, in sync, in alignment.

For you to have values alignment, the work and mission of the group needs to be based on a significant set of shared values.   And the other core values, those that are not shared, should not be in opposition.  This might sound like a tough standard, but keep in mind that differences in non-core values will occur in a diverse team – it is the solid, aligned core that keeps things together.

What actions create “alignment ?”  Values alignment occurs when folks with a set of shared core values know what they are, discuss these core values, and share how to apply them and make them relevant in life and work.  Did you write down you core values earlier?   If not – take a moment to do so, at least to hit the high points.  This list will be refined over time as you come to understand what core/fundamental really means.

4 Steps to Better Values Alignment

1.  Write Down Your Core Values.  Simple, but not commonly done.  As a leader, it can help to actually post your core values as an ever-present communication of what you stand for.  It will be a powerful reference point and anchor for your teams.  Regardless of your role, writing down core values is important to achieve alignment so you actually, uh, know what you are aligning!

2.  Talk about you core values.  I know you saw this one coming…don’t shy away from mentioning your core values as  you make decisions, celebrate victories, or discuss problems.  When they are relevant, talk about values.  Just like you would other important factors in your work or life.

3.  Know the core values of the people in your business and life.    Core values will differ among people, but there needs to be overlap, and a lack of opposition of core values.  Ask the people in your world (peers, supervisor, team members) about their values.  Look for fundamental, core values.  Understand where they are coming from.  Identify and talk about overlap, shared values.  This is essential for recruiting talent – do not bring anyone onto your team until you have  a good read on their core values.  Don’t even think about it.

4.  Address values opposition and conflict.  This is the difficult part.  Some folks in your organization may have core values which conflict with those of you, your team, and/or your organization.  But first – take a careful look at where the values difference is.  If it is outside the core, then there is likely a shared core value that can be leveraged to resolve the conflict.  That disagreement over whether to recognize individual merit or team contribution can be resolved by starting at shared core values such as caring for people – and work up from there.

But…if you find that someone in your team or organization has deeply held values that conflict with the organization/teams’ core values, then that person – for their own happiness and that of the team – needs to join a team or organization more in keeping with their core beliefs.

Take the issue of Values Alignment seriously.  It will be a source of energy, inspiration, and common mission for your team.


Defining the word “Talent” – and 4 Action Steps to Get More of It!

7987532186After my last post, Hire Talent, Not Experience!, some folks wanted to know more about what I mean by the word “talent”, and what specific things they can do to better identify and recruit talent.

Cool, those are essential questions if we want to turn this concept into action.

I think the general definition of talent used by the Gallup Organization is a good one:   “Talents are naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.”  But if you think about it, that general definition leaves all the work to you, oh dedicated leader of people.  Because you have to figure out all the key pieces:

– What recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior produce results in your world/business/team?

– How do you move the talented person from “can be productively applied” to “performed brilliantly, nailed it!”

In my experience, intuition is helpful but not really enough.  You have to be intentional and specific in the way you think about talent in your context.  Here is a diagram that I use occasionally to describe the search for great product development talent, where the key talents of interest are shown as dimensions:

Talent chart

There are probably more dimensions than this to consider, but in this example I have defined 3 recurring patterns that predict the performance of a product development engineer on an engineering task:  Technical Ability, Relationship Forming, and Creativity.  I could probably add Attention to Detail but bear with me.

The point is that on a continual basis you will want to evaluate these “factors” in your team members (locate them in the talent “space,” consider how these talents correlate with results,  and begin to create a specific set of the key talent dimensions that predict success for a particular role in your organization/environment.

Here are Actions Steps that will help you get more of the talent you need:

1. Study your top performers.  Is there a combination of these talents that occur over and over again in your top performers?  A certain amount of creativity that is needed to do the job?  A certain minimum quality of technical thought processes?  These might mark key success factors for the role.  You just need to have a certain minimum level to succeed on our team.

2. Evaluate the mix of talents on successful teams, and the gaps in talent in your organization.  What range of talents would add important elements to the team, create needed diversity of talent, complement other members?  Here you are putting together that special recipe for the team that usually benefits from a range of complementary talents.

3. Create the talent profile you need.  There will be a range of talents you can accept – you want to think about this before people start interviewing for the job.  At this point you will not only have a stronger target for your search, but you will have a meaningful language to discuss how candidates would affect the team and perform in the role.

Important Caution:  Do not use this system as a back-and-white, go/no-go screen.  Talent is hard to identify and always a subjective criteria at some level.  And you might find that someone high in one talent might not be the ideal fit but might complement others who are low in that talent.  You might find a team recipe that works with a particular person’s talents in a special way you had not considered – sort of like an unusual case of item #2 above.

4.  Develop screening tools.  Consider not just interview questions, but specific problems or situations that reveal the focus talents for the role.  Run each candidate through as wide array of questions and evaluations as feasible to understand his/her talents.

I know this is harder than it sounds.  But try this out for a critical opening on your team, run a pilot project to see if this helps.  Let me know how it goes!

Do have any thoughts on this or related ideas?  Let me know by commenting below…

Related Content:

1.  Exactly What is Talent, Anyway? (

2.  How to Identify Your Employees’ Hidden Talents (

3.  Identifying and Developing Talent (

Hire Talent, not Experience! (and 5 Simple Steps to Find the Talent You Need)

3427501183Recruiting is a pain.  It is hard to get right, and so painful and damaging to get wrong.

We make it so much harder on ourselves when we focus on experience.  Here is my controversial statement for today:  experience is no indication of ability or success.  Makes sense, right?  I might have cooked a lasagna, but it doesn’t mean it is any good.  I might have drawn a picture, but it could be awful.  And the harder the task, the less likely that experience alone is any indication of success. So, of all the folks who have done a job like the one you want done, most have not been very good at it.

Then why do we only look for folks who have done the job before that we want done now?  Is it that we just don’t have the patience, process, or ability to train someone to do the work?  Admittedly, if I can find a talented person who has also done the job before, then we have the best of both worlds.  Just realize you may not have that option.

The best Manufacturing Engineer I ever hired spent the first part of his career as a cook.  The best Project Manager I have ever worked with had spent most of her career as a Manufacturing Engineering.  The best Operations Manager I knew spent the last 5 years as a naval officer.  You can see, though, that in each of these examples the earlier work developed or built upon a talent that mattered to their next role.  As a cook, the engineer learned how to simplify complex tasks, to break things down, and to add some creativity into his work.   As a Manufacturing Engineer, the future PM learned to understand tasks, priorities, and milestones as they flowed in the real world.  And she did so with attention to detail and discipline that the best PMs would recognize.

So, stop scanning resumes for a narrow set of experiences.  You are wasting your time.  Instead….

1.  Identify the talents, the basic attitudes and attributes, of the very best people doing that job.  Now you have a target that matters!

2.  To find folks like this, think of jobs where such people thrive.  That might be a job like the one you are looking to fill, but there are certainly others as well.   Now you can look at someone’s resume and consider experience from the talent-centered point of view.

3.  By all means, if there is some critical knowledge or experience you must have, identify it.  But don’t go overboard.  Talented people learn quickly and adapt.

4.  Signs of great talent often include:  a positive, energetic attitude;  curiosity and a passion for learning;  a solid record of doing important things in their chosen field.

5.  Absolutely must avoid:  any kind of negativity or negative attitude; a tendency to attribute their problems to the fault of others; a solo player – great teams are held together by relationships, no hermits welcome.

Now go forth, and build that great team!


Related Content:

1.  How Great Manager Define Talent (

2.  Your Best Employee May not Have Industry Experience, (