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Does your company have a cultural congruence problem?

3 min read


What does your company stand for? Go ahead, look around you; check out the published mission or values statement. Take a moment to read it. Now do a gut check: what was your reaction? Did you feel positively connected to a meaningful purpose? Or did you disdainfully roll your eyes?

If it’s the latter, your company has a cultural congruence problem: the stated organizational values aren’t lining up with the reality of daily business decisions. And this means the leaders in your organization had better get to work closing that gap.

It’s easy for leaders to make statements like, “Our customer is No. 1” and “Safety first”; it’s a lot harder to turn those pronouncements into a reality. The reasons for a cultural congruence gap are many: financial pressures, regulatory issues, competing demands within the organization. Most leaders understand that making decisions incompatible with company values is counterproductive.

Still, they justify their actions with “Just this once” or “Our shareholders demand this.” It’s counter-productive, but they still get away with it. Here’s why: there is no immediate consequence to the decision. There may be some vigorous debate amongst people involved in the decision-making. In the end, if the leader making the decision declares it so, there is no immediate and direct consequence.

But what if there was an immediate result? Here’s a thought: what if every time leaders did something counter to their company’s values, their noses grew? Like the famed puppet Pinocchio, what if it became immediately apparent when a misguided decision was flying in the face of what your company stands for? Whimsical, yes, but wouldn’t it be effective? The offenders would be immediately called out to account for their actions.

Of course, nose-growing only appears in children’s literature. So leaders must discipline themselves to use internal guideposts to stay true to the company’s culture. Here are common scenarios in which leaders may be tempted to choose an immediate solution over one that honors the company’s values:

Graphic by Jennifer V. Miller


There’s a natural tug on the needle of peoples’ internal moral compasses when company values don’t line up with the decision at hand. Leaders who heed that signal, and ask, “How can I meet the business demands and still maintain our company values?” are those that maintain not only their integrity, but also their influence.

Career strategist Jennifer V. Miller is a former HR manager and corporate trainer who helps mid-career professionals chart the course for their next big “leap.” A self-described “professional opportunity cultivator,” Miller provides one-to-one and small group professional development coaching via her company SkillSource. She offers up tips for leading yourself and others at The People Equation.