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Organizational Culture and Employees' Personal Values: Are They Compatible?

written by: N Nayab•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 4/28/2011

Strategic human resource management strives to ensure a “fit" between the employee and the organization. Such a “fit" comes when the individual’s personal values remain compatible with an organization's culture and values. Read on for the implications for both the organization and the employee.

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    Personal Values and Organizational Culture Personal values and organizational culture remain closely interrelated in the human resource context. Personal values are the preferences of individuals, the basis on which they consider something important and make innate decisions. Personal values also guide the individual’s ethical and other behavior. Organizational culture is the set of beliefs, values, and norms espoused by the organization, which reflects the way the organization conducts its business, makes decisions, and interacts with stakeholders.

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    Shared Values

    Shared values are the basis of "employer-employee" fit and manifest when the individual’s personal values become compatible with organizational culture and values.

    Shared values engender trust, bind the workforce together, and provide a distinct identity for the organization. Failure to ensure shared values in an organization invariably results in a dysfunctional organization where individual employees remain at loggerheads with management decisions, manifesting in performance and behavioral issues.

    For instance, organizations with constructive cultures encourage employees to work to their full potential, valuing quality over quantity, creativity over conformity, and cooperation over competition. Success of such a culture depends on the employees' espousing compatible values. Employees who value teamwork and have a positive attitude would fit into and promote such a culture. However, employees who value individualism and who "nitpick" find themselves misfits in such a culture and drag down organizational performance.

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    How to Promote Shared Values

    Organizations looking to align individual values with organizational culture first need to define organizational culture, or the values that the organization places in high regard in clear terms, and communicate the same to the workforce.

    Methods of promoting such shared values include hiring “fit" employees, or identifying candidates whose personal value systems match the elements of organizational culure and values, and encouraging the desired behavior among existing employees through effective rewards system.

    The best approach in promoting shared values is trying to reconcile elements of an individual’s personal value system relevant for work-related performance rather than attempting to change the employee’s entire value system. Individuals can synthesize and extract aspects of a value system that they require from the multiple subcultures around them.

    Organizations going overboard in trying to enforce shared values run the risk of reducing the ability of individual employees to engage in critical thinking, resulting in loss of creative power and the ability to innovate as well as low tolerance for diversity; this may not suit a multicultural workplace.

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    Strong and Weak Culture

    Organizations having a high level of shared values, where most employees align their individual values with organizational culture, have a strong culture. Such organizations usually achieve good performance results, for employees identify with the organization, respond to the organizational initiatives with a sense of ownership, and remain motivated. Strong cultures increase workforce cohesiveness, promote consistency, and reduce employee turnover, all improving organizational efficiency and performance.

    Organizations that fail to align employee values with organizational culture have a weak culture. The workforce in such organizations generally remains noncommittal to organizational goals, and the organization has to exercise control over the workforce through extensive procedures and bureaucracy. Weak cultures also result in attitude and behavioral issues bogging down performance. For instance, failure to reconcile individual values with company culture may result in a new manager with a daring go-getting attitude remaining at loggerheads with a conservative top-management, or a new recruit who values caution and playing by the rules being lost and out of place in a company that values initiative and risk taking.

    Success, however, depends on having the right organizational culture in place. For instance, most organizations require a performance-based culture that values hard work, initiative, risk taking, innovation and creativity. In such a scenario, establishing a process culture that values the process or how employees do things rather than what employees do, and ensuring employees' personal values and organizational culture “fit", is hardly the recipe for success.

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    1. Bilsky, Wolfgang, & Jehn, Karen A. “Organizational culture and individual values: evidence for a common structure." Retrieved from on April 22, 2011.
    2. Black, Richard J. (2003) Organizational Culture: Creating the Influence Needed for Strategic Success, London UK, ISBN 1-58112-211-X

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