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Written By
Xiao Ling

Ask an executive coach: How do I retain employees by aligning their personal values?

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Table of Content

Table of Contents

Everyone is talking about “ikigai” – the Japanese concept of finding one’s purpose in life by combining their passion, mission, vocation, and profession.

But what does that entail in the corporate world today? Can employees find their “ikigai” without resigning from their current jobs or making a mid-career switch altogether? And can employers retain employees by helping them find their “ikigai”?

As an executive coach and counsellor, I’ve had the privilege to hear from both sides. I’ve met executives who are puzzled that talents are leaving despite high compensations, as well as unmotivated employees who feel stuck and “worthless” despite their exceptional performance.

From burnout to stagnation, the reasons that drive employees to resign are varied. But what happens when they cite “a misalignment of values”?

The importance of alignment

Companies typically look at technical skills when searching for new blood, but as the modern workforce values flexibility and freedom, true alignment transcends the stuff of a candidate’s CV. Instead, it’s about who they are, what they want to become, and what they believe.

In my career, I’ve come across an animal lover who works in the factory farming industry, a health and wellness enthusiast in the business of alcohol production and promotion, and an environmental activist in the field of chemical manufacturing. Their performance at work is impeccable, but the misalignment of values wears them out every day.

It’s like wearing a pair of shoes that doesn’t fit. You might be able to walk a few miles, or for as long as you’re willing to “put up with it.” But it’s a matter of time before you dread or fear putting them on again because they hurt. 

Fortunately, we can take steps to ensure alignment. In the following sections, we will delve into how organisations can retain employees in mutually beneficial ways.

1. Profiling employees during interviews

To ensure that employers and employees are in sync, the work starts as early as the interviewing phase. In employee profiling, we don’t just assess a candidate’s skills and experiences (what they do) but also their values and beliefs (who they are), helping both parties develop a symbiotic relationship.

Here are some interview questions employers can ask:

  • What attracted you to our company?
  • In what ways would you like to contribute to society?
  • How do these align with our mission?
  • How can our company be a platform for self-actualisation for you?

Ultimately, the goal is to screen for potential mismatches during hiring to reduce turnover down the line. Aside from better retention, alignment also keeps your employees intrinsically motivated, contributing to higher performance and loyalty.

(As an employee, you may consider your values when looking for a job, too. Read our guide to navigating job interviews authentically here.)

2. Charting career paths collaboratively 

When an employee becomes competent enough to be considered for more responsibilities, their employer’s first course of action is to promote them. However, this decision should be made collaboratively. Employees need to have a say in their career trajectory and align it with their needs and wants.

Case in point: A client of mine would change jobs every two to three years to “avoid” being promoted to a leadership role. Leaving her third job in six years, she confessed,

“I love my job, but I hate managing people.”

Promoting a candidate with neither the interest nor skills in management is not unlike expecting a professional painter to compose a song. This mismatch not only demotivates employees, but it also compromises their work performance and their team members’ employee experiences. 

On the flipside, I’ve met CEOs who feel exasperated when their top performers resign. Here’s how one such conversation went:

CEO: “I work hard to mentor my employees and impart the skills they require to succeed, but they are not absorbing them. It’s like pouring water into the sand – it just disappears!”

Coach: “What do you mean by ‘succeed’?”

CEO: “Starting their companies one day, being their own bosses, and making a lot of money. You know, just like me.”

Coach: “Could it be that success means something different to them? Is it possible that their values and priorities differ from yours?”

As it turned out, the top performer who resigned had expressed her disinterest in managing people and her desire to continue making a meaningful impact through her research work.

“Treat others the way you want to be treated” – this is probably one of the most questionable statements I’ve heard. If employees come with unique ambitions, values, and beliefs, how can a single career trajectory suit all of them?

Taking a collaborative approach to career progression, employers may ask:

  • What does career growth look like in your context?
  • Where do you see yourself in the next one, three, and five years – both professionally and personally?
  • How can we help align your personal and professional aspirations?
  • What are the specific skills, resources, and opportunities that will help you grow?
  • What specific areas would you like to focus more or less on? 

3. Addressing existing misalignment 

The responsibility of alignment is not solely on the company. For example, the aforementioned client who changes her job every few years can address her needs and wants more proactively and effectively.

If you find yourself stuck, consider having an open conversation with your manager about your internal conflicts. Here’s a simple framework you can use:

Invite your manager to discuss“After reflecting on my career and its alignment with my personal values, I’ve identified some areas of conflict. Would you be open to discussing how we can foster better alignment?”
Give examples of misalignment“When I was tasked to promote our product, I found it challenging, given my concerns about our carbon dioxide emissions.”
Describe the negative impact of misalignment“Due to this ethical dilemma, I struggle to bring my best ideas to the table during our brainstorming sessions.”
Explore potential solutions“Moving forward, can I contribute in areas that are more aligned with my values? I would love to be involved in projects related to our sustainability efforts.”

In sum, talent retention is a shared journey between employers and employees. It is crucial for organisations to consider values alignment from the get-go, and for individuals to communicate what would help them remain committed.

2 people having a conversation

Retain employees with Intellect

The costs of employee turnover isn’t new to company leaders and HR professionals, but the needs and wants of the post-pandemic workforce is constantly evolving. And if compensation alone will not retain employees, what will?

Reach out to Intellect to find out what our organisational development consultants have in mind.

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