It’s Not Personal; It’s Our Values

Marissa Levin
Marissa Levin
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I was speaking with a coaching client a few weeks ago regarding his frustrations about one of his executives who keeps his office door closed. He personalized these actions, and found them offensive. When I asked him why he found it offensive, he said he thought this executive was trying to set a different tone than he wanted for the organization. 

This is the first executive that my client has hired. There are a lot of subtle dynamics playing out in this scenario. Let’s break them down, one by one, to get to the heart of the matter. 

  1. My client is not accustomed to “delegating and elevating.” In other words, he has a difficult time releasing control to others, even though he knows he can’t do everything himself, and needs to build trust among his executive team. 
  2. Understandably, my client is protective of his organizational culture. This is his baby, and he knows how he wants it to operate. Subtle actions such as instituting an open-door policy or a closed-door policy speak volumes about a company’s communication and transparency.
  3. My client is assuming that the closed door is a direct response to something going on inside the organization. This is why assumptions are dangerous. Most often, people’s behaviors and actions are not a reflection of us. They are a reflection of their own experiences. Perhaps in a previous company, the behavioral norm was to close the office doors for privacy or quiet. 
  4. My client has not instituted his values system in his organization (we are working on that!). We discussed how this behavior may perhaps support or conflict with the values that he wants the organization to live. For example, transparency and open communications are important to my client. When we finalize his value system, these two values will be incorporated. 

Values dictate every major decision and action in an organization – from the clients that a company engages, to the people that a company hires, to seemingly simple behaviors such as leaving a door open or closed.  

Values determine our behavior when others are not around to watch us. They are the core of integrity – which manifests when values are integrated with our actions. Personally and professionally, they frame the most important aspects of who we are, and what matters to us.

An organization is born from an idea… a vision. An organization is formed from a value system. Before writing a business plan, before signing on a single customer, before making a single hire, the business owners must write down their core values. Haven’t done it yet? That’s OK. Do it today. If you’ve already brought on employees (and they are delivering), bring them into the process. If you are already engaged with customers, take a step back to assess if what you are doing for them is what you initially envisioned… are things going the way that you thought they would go?

The process of defining your values is your opportunity to shape the business you envision. There are no right or wrong values (as long as your mission is not to intentionally inflict harm or damage to others).  The important factor, however, is to define them clearly so that there is no ambiguity in what you are building, and there is no misalignment between what you need/expect from employees, and what they will provide.

The product/service you are providing will also determine your values. 

  • If you are providing a commodity, a primary value may be low price. 
  • If you are providing highly strategic, transformational services, a primary value may be innovation, competence, or quality.  
  • If you are positioning yourself as a technology thought leader, a core value may reflect your commitment to R&D.


When an employee engages in a manner that is not consistent with the values system of an organization, the conversation becomes very simple. Rather than attacking the employee personally, or taking the behavior personally, instead correlate the behavior to the core value. Explain how the behavior undermines or does not support the value, and why this matters to the culture and organizational health. 

Undesired behaviors are rarely personal, and are rarely intended to cause divisiveness in an organization. Bridge the gaps between values and behaviors with a simple conversation, and everyone will be happy with the outcome. 


Do you have an example of how a behavior showed up in your organization that conflicted with your values? Please share with us how you spotted it and subsequently diffused it. 

Need help defining and rolling out your values in your organization? I can help! Send me an email to [email protected] to start the conversation.

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