When people and companies become meaningful: Finding your North Star

Throughout my professional career, I have never worked for an organization that did not have a set of values. And that is not because I explicitly looked for companies that had a clear value proposition. At the time I was (just) looking for an employer; the topic of “company values” wasn’t particularly important to me. I was much more interested in the role I was offered, in being able to make a value-creating contribution in my position and in being allowed to develop. This is different today. The roles I took over from this point on did not allow me to escape representing and promoting the value of my organization. Of all things this has shown me too often the problem that an organisation’s values aren’t necessarily those of its members.  

Thus, nowadays it is impossible for me not to ask about what values the company holds, both internally and externally. Exactly how do they manifest themselves in the practical day-to-day operation of the organisation?  Young people who are just starting out in their professional careers have the same question on their minds, contrary to me back then. 

When a value becomes tangible and is transformed into practical attitudes and actions, it very quickly becomes about purpose! And in the coming years, future generations will demand even more of this from their employers. Purpose. While I write this, I find myself wondering: when we talk about employers, do we seek out sectarian organisations that promote their values despite everything else? Absolutely not!

There is a very tolerant attitude, which I observe not only in myself, but in the young people I meet every day as well. As an example, we value diverse perspectives both professionally and personally – we include people from diverse backgrounds, with different looks, different way of lifes and see this as part of the richness of our reality in everyday life. Despite the differences between these individuals, all of us are united by an understanding of common values and how to navigate them. And just because we are open to talk with people who don’t share the same values that we hold close to our heart and therefore have completely different opinions from our own on fundamental ideas, does not always mean we consider them friends. We are interested and open minded.

The selection of employers appears to me to be similar. For those of you who think your professional and private lives should be kept strictly separate, you may be right in other respects, but the greatest competitive advantage of an organization comes from employees who are fully identified with its organizational activities. From its products to its values. 

For orienting themselves at sea, even mariners used the pole star (north star). However, the problem with the pole star is that you must look upwards in order to see it. Therefore, it is no surprise that companies tend to define “values” in commercial terms.  This polar star for companies is then more likely to be a key figure that measures monetary aspects. In the case of values, rather general buzzwords are used, which have a wide range of meanings and already serve as a good sounding board from the viewpoint of common sense. However, if one looks at the practical implementation, these values tend to conceal the pursuit of profit. In other words: while these values are implemented practically, profit-seeking is hidden behind them.

Currently, our world is filled with challenges and problems, but it is also filled with opportunities. Sustainable and ethical values should provide a basis for translating empty words into credible strategies for action. Yet to achieve this, we not only have to look upwards, but also to the left, to the right, and downwards. This approach would allow all members of an organization to be involved in the process of defining values. 

The second problem with the North Star is that from Earth’s perspective, it does not move. As the world becomes more unpredictable, interconnected, and complex, we will have to align and evolve our values constantly. However, this can only happen under the condition that all organisational members understand and “live” by these values. Of course, the process of making their north star internally and externally tangible, will be much easier for some brands than for others. It is also true that for some people living and working in harmony with their values seems smoother than for others.

Think, act and live not only people, but also organisations in congruence to their values, it could be possible to find in our employer a friend, or more importantly, a partner with whom we can identify. For this to happen, especially organisations have to represent their values in their business practices equally for customers and for their employees, not only internally, but externally, too.

This could then lead in not seeing in an immovable north star a problem. Instead, it would be positive that we know where to look for it – in others around us, in ourselves, and in an organisation that embodies these values.

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