Keeping our personal values in mind in the workplace

By Elisabeth Goodman, 13th February 2020

I am finding some great intersections between my regular reading of Harvard Business Review and my new reading as part of my development as a coach.

This blog explores how congruence between our personal values and those of the organisation for which we work can influence how we feel about our work. It relates to Myles Downey’s writing (2014) and Maryam Kouchaki and Isaac Smith’s article in the January – February issue of HBR (2020).

Congruence between the inner and outer worlds of individuals and organisations

Downey builds on the work of Tim Gallwey (1974) to develop a model of individuals’ and organisations’ inner and outer worlds as shown in this illustration.

Values at work - illustration adapted from Myles Downey (2014)
Values at work – illustration adapted from Myles Downey (2014)

As my adaptation of Downey’s illustration shows, values are a key component of the inner world of individuals, and of organisations. These values are, in turn, reflected in how an individual behaves, and in how an organisation articulates its goals and assesses the performance of individuals.

It follows that, if there is not a good match (or congruence) between the four quadrants, then:

  • Either the organisation will not be satisfied with an individual’s performance
  • Or the individual will not be happy in their place of work

The values that might have the greatest influence on these dynamics are those associated with the ethics of the organisation, or in how they play out as individual morals. Kouchaki and Smith refer to these as “eulogy virtues”.

Eulogy virtues

Eulogy virtues, as the name implies, are the ones by which we would like others to remember us after we’ve died. So they may relate, for example, to our kindness, our generosity or our honesty. In an organisation they would translate to how we would expect peers and managers to behave towards each other, and towards their customers.

Kouchaki and Smith’s article has some useful guidance on how we could help ourselves keep to our chosen values for instance by:

  • Anticipating situations where they might be compromised and how we would behave in those situations
  • Sharing our values with others who could hold us accountable for our behaviour
  • Thinking about how we would feel if our behaviour was publicised (if we did not adhere to our values)
  • Considering ourselves as role models to others

Identifying and relating personal and organisational values

Barefoot Coaching Ltd (2019) has a beautiful set of cards covering 50 potential values.

Barefoot Coaching Values Cards
A snapshot of Barefoot Coaching’s values cards (Barefoot Coaching Ltd, 2019)

These and other values-related tools can be used to stimulate reflection and discussion with individuals, in teams, and in organisations.

A previous HBR article by Patrick Lencioni (2002) has some excellent tips for defining company values – an approach that I have facilitated in team building events as part of my work with RiverRhee.

Lencioni suggests that company values typically relate to three areas:

  1. What makes your company unique
  2. Employee qualities and interactions
  3. Customer service

Examples of questions that individuals could ask themselves when developing or reflecting on their company values include:

  • Why do I enjoy working at my company?
  • What unspoken values have contributed to our success so far?
  • How could each person in the organisation integrate their company’s values into their day-to-day work?
  • How will we know that people are practising the values


Values are an important component of our inner lives.  They affect how we approach and feel about our lives at work as well as at home.  We can gain some valuable insights from the authors mentioned above about how we can shape and influence organisational values to achieve maximum congruence with our own and others’ personal values.



Barefoot Coaching Ltd (2019). Values coaching cards.

Downey, M, (2014). Effective modern coaching. London: LID Publishing.

Gallwey, W.T. (1974).  The inner game of  tennis.  New Yort: Random House.

Lencioni, P.M. (2002).  Make your values mean something.  Harvard Business Review

Kouchaki, M. & Smith, I.H. (2020) Building an ethical career. Harvard Business Review, January-February, 15 – 139

Other notes:

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through courses, workshops and one-to-one coaching, and with a focus on the Life Sciences.

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.  She is developing her coaching skills and practice, with a focus on helping individuals to develop management and ‘soft’ skills, especially associated with change, and with Neurodiversity.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of the ICF (International Coach Federation) and of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

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