Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Do You Share My Values?

I have written several posts related to talent development, one specifically called "The Talent Triangle".  In my career my biggest failures have not been in poorly executed projects, missed deadlines, or any of the common mistakes that you read about online or in magazines.  Time and time again, the most cripplingly poor decisions I have made relate to people.  I've learned that good, smart, experienced people are significant components to a winning team.  But often I have selected specifically for those qualities only to find that my team does not perform at the level that should come with these individuals.  To be truthful, I have lost more sleep over poor team dynamics than all the other problems I have had as a CIO, combined.

So if you read my previous posts about capability and ego development you could legitimately ask the question, "What went wrong if you covered all the other bases?"  At this point in my career, after 20 years, I've finally got the answer.  My mistakes, when I get the wrong people on board, were that they did not share my values.  Now I'm not talking about beliefs.  A belief is something like this:
  • Religion
  • Politics
  • Coal plants are good or bad
  • A vegetarian lifestyle is superior to one with meat
  • Global warming is a threat to the planet
  • Some roles in IT are inherently more important than others
  • Ford trucks are better than Chevys
The people that kept both me and my organizations from realizing our full potential were those who did not share our core values.  Here are some values that you would find in my IT teams:
  • The customer/user comes first (if you are having dinner and someone needs help you go hungry)
  • Risk taking is a good thing if we learn a lesson that makes us better
  • When the phone rings, we answer it
  • Good results beats meticulous attendance - every time
  • Everyone deserves respect even if they must be disciplined
  • Public displays of anger are not a virtue
  • Heroes are not "cool" - team success is a far better thing
  • Loyalty is important to each other and the group - if we cannot trust each other how can we perform at our peak?
Imagine you hire the world's most talented system administrator.  S/He is so good that there is nothing they cannot do.   But then add to that a declaration from the person that they are unwilling to work nights and weekends when necessary.  If you're IT for more than three months you begin to understand that bad things (server crashes) don't usually happen unless it's during the night, weekend, or even better, on a holiday.  In this case, it doesn't matter how good the system administrator is because their values are out of line with both the role and the team.

At a management level, the synchronization of values becomes even more important.  Diversity of thought is critical and people of all types and backgrounds can exist while sharing the same values.  Think about what happens to the cohesiveness of a team if each person cannot trust the other?  People hold back, obfuscate, and don't really collaborate.  One leader with incompatible values can do huge damage to the team dynamics.  If you don't believe me, why does every United States Marine place such a huge emphasis on the phrase "Semper Fi"?  It's all about loyalty to each other, the team, the mission, and the country.  Pretty important things to have when the bullets are flying, don't you think?

I could give you many more examples of how misaligned values have derailed my organizations.  Some are small, others catastrophic.  As a final example of how talent isn't enough, let's look at the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA.  They have at least four future Hall of Famers: Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, and Pau Gasol.  This team should be, if not dominant, at least a strong contender.  Yet for all their skill, the Lakers are battling for the eighth and final playoff spot.  How could this be?  Just take a minute and read up on them, or if you're a fan analyze what you see as they play.  Their values are most definitely NOT in alignment and thus they are greatly under performing.  Now look at the San Antonio Spurs.  Can you name more than three players on their team?  Probably not.  But they are most likely the second best team in the league because despite their differences in life experience they all share the same values.

If you want to succeed as a CIO, a leader, or an individual you absolutely must associate with, and yes, hire people who can share and buy into your value systems.  Anything less is just like being a dentist to great white sharks.  Sooner or later you will experience, firsthand, a lesson in the coexistence of different value systems.

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