July 12, 2021
Achieving alignment at work and beyond
What matters most to the institution you work for?
Funny question, perhaps, since I spend so much time in my coaching business and on this blog discussing what matters most to individuals themselves. But just like people, institutions have values and goals.
And they don’t always line up with the things that matter most to their employees.
Institutions are motivated by many things. Money, of course, but likely also visibility, market share, reputation and prestige, to name a few. Some of these might also land on your list of priorities, but it is possible that some really don’t match up with your list – and, in fact, some of these motivators might really bother you because of the way they play out in the workplace.
That’s misalignment. And one way or another, you will have to come to terms with it.
Understanding workplace misalignment
Misalignment arises all the time in the workplace, but for individuals who are chafing up against institutional misalignment, it can feel extremely personal. You are pouring many of your waking hours into something you might really disagree with. That hurts.
Let’s explore an example. Suppose you are a passionate conservationist, and your company is building a new facility. Leaders have decided against the more eco-friendly designs on the table because the cost would be too high. The new construction instead will maintain the status quo – a status quo that you find unacceptable.
You might be annoyed. You might even speak out in objection. And then you might move on.
Or … it might really bother you over time, like a worsening wound. You recognize that this is a pattern. Your CEO is all talk, and the more you learn, the more harm you see is being inflicted. Then one day, you look around and realize you’re just … over it.
Revisiting what matters most to you
As we have discussed before, determining what matters most to you will provide you with a touchstone for making decisions and a compass for mapping your next move. As you examine your misalignment, go back to your own list. Look at your top five and assess which of those needs are being met by your current situation — and which aren’t.
This is about identifying what gives you satisfaction at work and beyond.
If your passion for environmental stewardship is high on your list, you might not be able to reconcile your own priorities with the decisions made in your workplace. Misalignment is not comfortable, and it can fuel dissatisfaction and burnout. It can affect your relationships, your performance and your well-being. It carries a cost.
But as you examine your list, you might notice that although environmental stewardship matters to you, the freedom enabled by your income, the flexibility to live near your parents or other factors are hugely important, too – and they are fully satisfied by your current job. A job you mostly like.
The question you need to answer, then, involves measuring the gap between your priorities and those your employer cares about, and then putting that in the context of all the other ways work meets your needs (or doesn’t)?
How big is the misalignment? And can you live with it?
Identify your options
Once you have come to terms with the idea of misalignment, you need to recognize that you do have some choices. Fundamentally, they involve pushing your concerns to the side or embracing them. You can live with things the way they are, or you can commit to changing them — at your workplace or in your own life.
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Achieving alignment at work
None of this is straightforward, and the truth is, very few work scenarios meet all our needs and bring us every happiness. I find it helpful to refer people to my Stay/Go Grid, which outlines the intersecting choices we all have. We can stay or go, and we can thrive or survive. There are reasons to consider any of these four scenarios.
Let’s look at them through the misalignment lens.
Stay and survive
This scenario involves staying put and getting through the day. In this scenario, you put whatever is bothering you about your workplace on the back burner because the other things that matter to you take priority. Important: This choice is not a cop-out. It is strategic and rooted in the things that are right for the life you are pursuing. No one else has to agree with your choice. You are the one who must live this life.
In our earlier example, stay-and-survive involves setting your concerns about your employer’s environmental ethic aside. You have made your objections known, and now you can move on. Perhaps you channel your passion into other areas of your life, such as volunteering, donating to a beneficial cause, or taking up advocacy in your personal time. And at work, you put your head down, do your job, and move on.
Conversely, you could consider rocking the boat …
Stay and thrive
Stay-and-thrive is the best-case scenario, but if you are in a misalignment situation, getting there can be a bumpy path. You probably aren’t feeling the “thrive” end of this equation right now, and so you will have to put in some work to find your way.
A caution: This is not for everyone.
You will need to speak out, advocate for what you think is right, and potentially become a thorn in the side of leadership. This involves work and guts, and it can take time. It also involves risk, and so you will have to determine how much you can handle. Consider the following:
- How likely is it that change is possible?
- Will your efforts be worthwhile?
- What are the possible harms to you and your family?
- Can your reputation withstand the damage it could incur?
- When will you know you have succeeded, and when will you know you are fighting for a lost cause?
This probably doesn’t sound much like thriving, but it is a path that can get you there – to a place where you have embraced your own power and made a difference. You could be a changemaker. For some people, it works.
If it doesn’t, you might find yourself moving to another area of the grid …
Go and survive
This is the portion of the grid where people leave their job because the situation is simply untenable. Sometimes identifying the misalignment is all it takes to realize you’re here. If your employer operates in a way you simply can’t live with, it may be time to move on. If you determine going elsewhere is the only way to achieve what matters most to you, you have your answer.
You might also land here after a period in the stay-and-survive quadrant. It might become apparent that your priorities are a little different than you thought, and the gap between you and your employer is too big to bridge.
Finally, some people land here after trying to bring about change. The danger of advocating against the status quo is that you might end up with a target on your back. It’s not fair, but it’s also sometimes reality. Railing against the machine is risky, and it can bring unpleasant consequences. That means it’s time to move on – and to ensure you are moving to a place of better alignment.
Which brings me to …
Go and thrive
Sometimes leaving is the answer. If the values of your workplace don’t line up with what matters most to you and igniting change is not in the cards, cut your losses and find someplace better.
The grass is generally not a whole lot greener on the other side of any fence. But if you prioritize finding an employer that reflects your values — and keep your list of what matters most to you front and center — you will almost certainly find better alignment in your next professional home.
Finding your best-fit scenario
Wherever you land, you’ll want to ensure you are in a job that meets your needs now and moves you toward wherever you are headed for the remainder of your career. You’re looking for satisfaction at work, but how will you know you’ve found it?
First, it will give you one more more of the Four E’s (education, experience, exposure, enthusiasm).
Second, it moves you back to “happily employed” in the career transition cycle. Note: this doesn’t mean everything is perfect. But it’s working for you.
And finally, it ensures you are getting what matters most to you out of your life, either because you are getting what you need from work, or work is leaving you the time, energy and other resources to get it elsewhere.
None of this is easy. But I’ll keep sharing ideas that I think will work for you the way they have worked for me and my clients. I hope you’ll consider sharing your thoughts as well – here in the comments, on social media or by email. I’d love to hear from you.
Together we’ll keep moving forward.
Unlock your potential and align with what matters most to you.
It’s that simple.