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What Motivates You: Why do you do what you do?

The most successful and happiest people in today’s work environment are those who are doing work that is compatible with their value system and the values of the organizations they work for.  Have you ever worked for an organization where the corporate values were completely the opposite than your values? Perhaps you are motivated by being a part of something larger than yourself and making a difference.  And the organization you work for is driven by the bottom line and demonstrating a good return on investment. 

Can you be successful in an organization that values different things?  Will you be seen as a valued contributor to the organization even when you a motivated by different values? The answer is yes, but it takes tons of self-awareness and political savvy.  

The following tips will help you align your values with those of the organization:

Find work that is compatible with what you value.  Ideally your job should be closely aligned with what gives you a sense of meaning and purpose. When you find work that is compatible with who you are at the deepest levels (your values), you get excited about what you are doing and why you are doing it. In doing so, you are not just putting in your time and picking up a paycheck, you are plugged in on many levels (emotionally and intellectually).  

Uncover projects and tasks that give you a sense of purpose.  Finding compatibility may not mean you have to leave your current organization or position.  It may mean you have to look around and volunteer for tasks that are congruent with your value system.  For example, if you are driven by helping others, volunteer to be a mentor.  Or explore the steps that are necessary to move into a supervisory position.  Supervisors have an opportunity to help people grow every day.  

Understand the values and culture of the organization.  The values of an organization are deeply held by the organizational leaders and yet not always obvious and apparent to all.  Values give continuity to decisions, actions and even promotions. Become a detective—pay close attention to the non-verbal clues that may be churning beneath the surface:

  • Is the organization slow to change or does it switch gears frequently?  A conservative organization may not reward mavericks or individuals who constantly push innovation and change. 

  • Does the organization value collaborative decision making or individuals who take decisive and quick actions?  An individual who prefers to work independently and thrives on making quick decisions may be perceived as a loose cannon and will not be valued for their individuality.

  • What are some behavioral norms of the organization (timeliness to meetings, professional dress, loyalty to the team, positive attitude, challenging status quo, being a team player, honesty and integrity, accountability, etc.)  When the behavioral norms of the organization are ignored or challenged, supervisors will and do react strongly, although not necessarily loudly.  

Dorothy Leeds (author of Smart Questions) says it best, "It’s not enough to do your job well.  You must find a way to tune into the vibrations of the organization, read the hidden messages, and pick up on both obvious and faint signals that unerringly point the way to success.”  In the end, the most successful employees are those who understand their values, the values of the organization and navigates those values with personal and professional integrity.


As you progress through your mentoring journey, you may be asking yourself a number of questions concerning where you are in your career at this moment and where you plan or intend to be down the road. The next time you meet with your mentor, plan to discuss the current values of your organization and how they fit into your own. The following are some questions to consider:

  • What do you value?
    • Does your current position fulfill your values and passions?
    • Are there any positions within the organization that align with your values?
  • What types of projects give you a sense of purpose?
  • Are there any committees or projects that you could volunteer for that align closely with your value system?
  • What are some deal breakers for you when it comes to a professional position/responsibility? 
    • Could any of these deal breakers be a part of your current position?
  • What are the unwritten rules of the organization?
    • Teamwork rules? Feedback rules? Management and decision-making rules?
    • How does your behavior fit?
    • Can you live with them or do you find them too stressful to uphold?
    • In what ways could your behavior be hurting your professional image and my career?