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The importance of personal values in managing business change

By Nick Wilson | |7 minute read
The Importance Of Personal Values In Managing Business Change

Change is inevitable in business, and understanding how to explain it in a way that matches the values of your employees can help make the process smoother.

Personal and organisational values are more important in business management than ever before.

To quote Patrick M Lencioni, writing in the Harvard Business Review: “The values fad swept through corporate America like chicken pox through a kindergarten class.”


The analogy isn’t perfect, but it’s not terrible either; organisational values can be a liability.

“Value washing” is what it’s called when the stated core principles of an organisation are out of pace with the real practices of that organisation. So-called “greenwashing” is a better-known subset of value washing.

It’s a fact of the new business landscape that businesses need to voice and stand by their values, said Kelly Michael, co-founder of Map of Me and Human Link.

So, businesses are expected to make their values known, but what about employees? Is discussion of personal values reserved for the dinner table, or is it incumbent on business leaders to learn and respect the values of their employees?

According to Ms Michael, understanding personal values is integral in managing change in the workplace. Effective leaders are those that can speak the language of their employees.

Workplace values

“Psychological language is common in the workplace, where previously it just wasn’t,” said Ms Michael.

“Things like trust, vulnerability, authenticity, personal values, psychological safety, and relational dynamics – this is common workplace language now.”

When considering workplace values, it’s important to separate them from emotional states and other less fundamental characteristics or feelings.

“What I see at the moment is a lot of people talking about values without using evidence-based frameworks,” said Ms Michael. “I can value finding my car keys every morning, but it’s not a true personal value.”

Ms Michael believes values lie beneath these things. They are our deepest drivers and motivators.

“These were seen as soft skills before. They were feminised and idealised by organisations but rarely lived out when compared with ‘hard’ performance metrics,” said Ms Michael.

“Now we understand that they’re inextricably linked. You can’t separate human psychology from performance. They both exist in relationship to one another because we’re human beings, and we bring our whole selves into the workplace.”

The anxiety of misaligned values

Since values undergird human behaviour, they can be difficult to identify. When our work is misaligned with our values, according to Ms Michael, this misalignment often makes itself known through anxiety, stress, depression, and burnout.

“If I can’t show up in the workplace as me, then it can be quite challenging and, at worst, damaging both psychologically and physically,” said Ms Michael.

“When we live in alignment with our values, we’re energised. When we’re not acting in alignment with them, it’s very draining.”

Change and values

Effective management of change requires an understanding of the people you work with.

“It’s about having an understanding of human behaviour and understanding the impact of change on people from a psychological perspective,” said Ms Michael.

Change, and our response to it, can be broken down into component parts. This was the subject of Steve Macdonald, an organisational psychologist and the other co-founder of Map of Me’s book: Press Pause.

By its very definition, change is uncertain and novel. But there are common features to all kinds of change. By understanding the patterns underlying change, we can help team members prepare for what’s to come.

“When we see people not performing at level, it’s generally not a refusal to change. It’s a lack of support. They don’t actually realise the changes they have to make,” said Ms Michael.

“That’s why I like personal values. When we have an awareness of it, we can speak in each other’s languages. When teams are good at this, there’s this beautiful, robust kind of wrestling that can happen with ideas and particularly change.”

What to avoid

Understanding values can help to begin a conversation on common terms, but they should not be used in a way that denies the individual’s ability to change. “Where it gets problematic is when we start labelling people,” said Ms Michael.

Instead, understanding one another’s values allows more effective collaboration without denying our colleagues’ ability to change.

“There’s so much at play for people when change confronts them. A better understanding of human behaviour, particularly in how people respond to change and why, is really helpful since it helps to see the journey it takes people on,” said Ms Michael.


Change management

Change management is the process of guiding workers through a change by monitoring its effect on their output, morale, and other stakeholders is part of the change. This can be carried out constantly or on a set schedule, such as weekly, monthly, or yearly.


Your organization's culture determines its personality and character. The combination of your formal and informal procedures, attitudes, and beliefs results in the experience that both your workers and consumers have. Company culture is fundamentally the way things are done at work.

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson is a journalist with HR Leader. With a background in environmental law and communications consultancy, Nick has a passion for language and fact-driven storytelling.