by Hal Lancaster

 Appeared in the Wall Street Journal, March 25, 1997, page B1.



Have you reviewed your career values lately? Did you even know

you had them?

     Simply put, values are the principles and standards that

are important to you, from your work ethic to how you treat the

people in the mailroom. Everybody has them, but many of us don't

define them consciously or think of them in terms of our careers.

"I ask people in interviews what their personal values are," says

Thomas D. Kuczmarski, a Chicago management consultant who

co-wrote "Values-Based Leadership." "They stop and ask, 'What do

you mean by that?'"

     Sure, the subject of values sounds a little touchy-feely;

but disregarding them can land you in a job you hate. Early in my

career, I worked for a medium-sized daily newspaper where,

regularly, advertising salesmen would order up nattering stories

on big advertisers. I soon quit.

     So at least one value really does matter to me. But knowing

that is only the first step. What happens if my values and my

boss's collide? In an imperfect world, are there any perfect


     After 20 years of searching, John Gillespie of Cranford,

N.J., hasn't found one. He recently resigned as vice president

and CFO of a specialty retail chain because his boss didn't share

his values. "When I talked about things that had a deeper

meaning, like communicating differently, treating people the

right way, I found a lot of the time I was taking it on the chin"

from upper management, he says. For example, he values honest communication. 

But when he questioned the approach of a company

ad, the incident was viewed as a betrayal by his boss.

     Clearly, to fit into the corporate world, many people have

to submerge at least some of their values. At 80% of the 200

large companies surveyed for his book, Mr. Kuczmarski found that

the values described by senior management were totally different

than those defined by the rest of the company. Whose values do

you think prevail? Those who can't get "in alignment," as senior

managers are wont to say, end up calling themselves

"entrepreneuers," "consultants" or just plain "unemployed."

     Mr. Kuczmarski insists that values are becoming more

important in the workplace "because people are no longer willing

to have a church and state mindset [about work and personal

life]." Instead, he adds, they are trying harder to integrate

"who I am as a person, who I am as a dad, who I am as an


     Those who stick around in spite of a mismatch may pay a

steep price Mr. Kuczmarski says. Some become disconnected from

the corporate mainstream, leading to increased sick days,

tardiness and poor performance. Others become chameleons,

adopting the values of the company, or their boss, particularly

in companies where disagreement isn't encouraged. "It's awful,"

Mr. Kuczmarski says, "It may be efficient, but it's not healthy."

     Most big companies just don't get it, he complains. Many

CEOs, he says, "kind of put this into the category of hot-tub


     Which is why he has his own firm. Fourteen years ago, he

left a national consulting firm because "it was a culture that

focused on getting to the top more than doing the right thing, a

culture that was really hierarchical as opposed to collegial;

those were values I didn't like or want."

     Heeding the call of his values hurt financially for three

years, until his consulting firm got going, but this is "the

happiest I've ever been, because I've created a company where

everyone has common values," he says.

     Mr. Gillespie says he's "on a quest" for just such a

company. "That's the part that's very difficult," he says. It's

not the kind of issue companies are ranked on, so "you don't hear

about the companies that have good values."

     He concedes that he has considered the possibility that his

insistence on principles might hinder his career, but he

eventually dismissed it. "It's short-term pain for long-term

gain," he says. The pain is here now, as he searches for a career

soul mate. But he's convinced the long-term gain will eventually

arrive. "In my next job, there will be a lot more creativity and

fun and joy," he says.

     Clearly, the values game can get pretty sticky. I admire the

idealism of Mr. Kuczmarski and Mr. Gillespie, but don't be so

rigid that your career gets damaged.

     Melinda Norcross, a systems engineer in Boston for Bell

Atlantic Nynex Mobile, a cellular carrier, credits her father

with shaping her values. When she graduated from high school, she

recalls, he gave her a newspaper article on integrity. "I decided

then and there that I could only live my life one way--by a

strict set of ethics and honesty to everyone I met in my life."

But her values don't hinder her career, she believes,

because she doesn't insist that others adopt them.

     My cautionary bit of advice: Besides defining your values,

rank them. Some values, like integrity are clearly deal-breakers;

but maybe you can live without others, like open communication

with your grumpy boss. In those cases, it may be better to work

towards a reasonable compromise.

     Best of all, work through this values matchup before you

take the job. It might save you a bad experience that will be

difficult to explain to prospective future employers.