Core Values: The Hidden Driver of Organizational Fit

by Susan Mazza | Posted | Leadership

Core Values: The Hidden Driver of Organizational Fit

Vitally important, yet often poorly understood, core values factor in every decision we make. What do I mean by core value? I mean an important and enduring belief or ideal that must be met for us to feel like we're on solid ground and performing at our best.

As an organizational leader, understanding your core values and the core values of others is also essential to ensuring a good organizational fit - matching people with an organization to ensure ongoing high performance and job satisfaction.

The unfortunate thing about values is that they tend to be hidden from view in that they can be hard to distinguish for yourself and others. Yet, while values may seem elusive and fall into the category of soft in the human resources management realm, they have a decidedly hard impact on performance.

Understanding hidden performance drivers

hidden performance drivers

However, the key to distinguishing your core values and those of others, will take leaders into the often uncomfortable territory of emotions.


Because core values carry the most emotional charge both positively and negatively.

The good news is that a positive emotional response, such as passionate engagement in a project, can be as telling about a person's core values as a more negative emotional response such as withdrawal.

Aligning personal core values and organizational values

Learning to recognize the value underlying the emotion can help tremendously with assessing whether someone is a good fit or not in an organization.

One indication that a value is core is when someone has a significant emotional charge when that value is not satisfied in the words, the choices or the actions of yourself or others.

When someone reacts strongly to an event or situation, chances are that a core value has been questioned or ignored. If other people violate one of their core values, there will undoubtedly be an emotional response, for example, hurt, anger, aggression, stress or sullen withdrawal.

People will feel frustrated when they are forced - by events or people - to act in ways contrary to one or more of their core values.

On the other hand, when someone is doing work that aligns with their values, either in terms of what they are working to achieve or what they are being asked to do, performance and satisfaction tends to follow.

How do you look beneath the surface of emotion to distinguish someone's core values?

The simple answer is by paying attention to a person's mood and learning to ask questions instead of making assessments and assumptions.

Here are three questions to ask when you observe someone experiencing an emotional charge - positive or negative:

  1. What is it about what you do now that makes you so satisfied/unsatisfied?
  2. Tell me why you think you reacted so strongly to the situation?
  3. What is important to you in terms of making you happy or upset in response to an event, an interaction, an assignment, etc.?

Note that, in an interview situation, you can ask someone to share a scenario of when they experienced a work high or low. Then you can follow up with these questions.

Ultimately, the best place to start in developing your capacity to distinguish the values of others is to do the work for yourself. Start noticing the situations that trigger the strongest emotional responses in you and ask yourself the above questions. You might be surprised by what you discover.

Strong emotions are guideposts. Learn to observe them in yourself and others as clues to understanding the people who work with and for you. Learn to do this well and you will improve your ability to identify those who will truly fit in your organization.

Your Turn: What are some other questions for uncovering someone's core values?

Image credit: Thank you to Camille Smith of WIP Coaching for permission to use the above diagram in this article.

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