Aligning values and goals: What this looks like in practice
Our performance psychologist, Suzie Mossman-Monk looks at why it’s important to align our goals with our values and how to create value-based goals.
What is the difference between values and goals?
Although often grouped together, I see values and goals as being distinct. I think of a value as being a deep-rooted compass point - our values tell us the direction we want to travel in from a work and life perspective. Whilst they can sometimes change due to big life events such as illness, marriage, or having children, we can, for the most part, rely on them being constant. A value could be friends and family and how important they are to us, honesty, teamwork, and personal development.
Conversely, goals represent outcomes which can be completed before we move on to the next target. Goals can be seen as the stepping stones that lead us in the direction of our values.
How do values affect the goals you set yourself?
Understanding our values is incredibly important because they will impact how successful we are in achieving the goals we set ourselves. Values ensure the goals we set are aligned with who we want to be. We are much more likely to have the intrinsic motivation to achieve our goals if they are aligned with what matters to us.
By aligning our goals and values, we can be sure we are working towards the things we want to do, rather than something we think or are told we should do. For instance, there would be no point in setting a goal involving something you’re already good at if your value is around growth or challenge.
How do you identify your values?
Identifying our values can require some work and should be reviewed regularly. We can cling on to old values even when our lives change. There are several approaches to help you understand your values. My approach is to give around 50 cards with a value written on each to the person I’m working with and ask them to put them into a few different piles in order of importance. Then we go through and sort each pile into themes and start whittling them down. The aim is to end up with between six and eight values that are most important to the individual. Be patient, this process can take a while. It’s important to consider what the value means to you - and to be flexible, if something important isn’t represented on a card, make your own!
Other psychologists will ask a person to think about a time when they felt most fulfilled and what it was about that situation that made them feel that way. The psychologist will then ask the person to do the same exercise whilst thinking about a frustrating moment in their life.
For instance, if a person felt fulfilled when their mentee was promoted after a period of coaching, then we know one of this person’s values is helping others or helping people to grow. Equally, if someone felt frustrated when a team around them didn’t work together and everyone was out for themselves, then we know that collaboration or teamwork is important.
Whichever way we identify our values, it’s important to know what they are, because if we get wrapped up in a company or relationship whose goals don’t align with ours, there can be conflict.
How do you create values-based goals?
Once we know which direction our compass is pointing in, creating value-based goals is easier. If one value is growing others, we would then consider which stepping stones will help us to move in that direction.
For example, if collaboration or teamwork is our value, then the goal could be to volunteer to lead on the ways of working on your project, or perhaps the goal could be to get an internal role that involves leading a team.
SMART goals, as they’re known, are specific goals we set ourselves. So, instead of saying “I want to get fitter”, we say, “I want to run 5k”. Then, we need to make the goal measurable, so we’d add in that we want to run 5k in 30 minutes. The goal needs to be a challenge, but it also needs to be achievable.
In a work setting, the goal might be to improve your business development (BD) skills; so, we need to set some specific goals.
Specific: I want to increase the number of BD conversations I engage with each month
Measurable: I will have 3 new BD conversations by the end of this quarter
Achievable: Do you think this is a realistic goal based on how many BD conversations you are currently having?
Relevant: Does this goal align to your values and help you move towards them?
Time-bound: I will review whether I have achieved this goal at the end of this quarter
Another thing we can do is to share some of these goals with our colleagues or friends so that we become accountable. This is a good way of getting to know people in your office and allowing others to be their authentic selves. Sharing your goals also means people can give us feedback and nudge us in the right direction. This is also a good way of bringing psychological safety into the workplace. This approach is something that should be modelled throughout the organisation, and leaders should also be encouraged to share their values, what’s important to them, and their goals.
In my experience, values in the purest sense are relatively stable. If we’re driven by challenge, security, or empathy, those values are generally consistent. However, following big life events, they can shift. The pandemic is a good example of an event which might have shifted our values. People driven towards doing interesting, creative work, may now prioritise security since Covid. Therefore, it is important to review our values and goals on a regular basis.
Aligning our goals and values means we are working towards things that matter to us which ultimately will make us more likely to lead a fulfilling and purposeful life.