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Michael Norton (doc) is Director of Engineering for Groupon in Chicago, IL. Michael's experience covers a wide range of development topics. Michael declares expertise in no single language or methodology and is immediately suspicious of anyone who declares such expertise. Michael is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 41 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Values and Beliefs

03.16.2011
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Earlier this week, Bob Marshall (@flowchainsensei) retweeted an article by Dan McCarthy on The Meaning of Respect, where he discussed respect as a value. I then saw a blog post from Seth Godin entitled "Seven Questions for Leaders" where he asks if you would walk away from a client or employee whose values don't match yours. This weekend, at Agile and Beyond, I got into a conversation with several others about company values and walking away from clients when there is a mis-match. At LeanDog, we proudly display our company values and we often refer to the XP values of Simplicity, Communication, Feedback, Respect, and Courage.

I've long held the perspective that shared values is an insufficient basis for determining if two parties are compatible. In fact, it can be downright misleading.

Our beliefs are a better test, but often more difficult to identify.


Family First

Before they were married, Tom and Janet had several late night discussions about what their future would look like. They agreed they wanted children and above all else, family had to come first. "Family First" became a mantra in the early years of their marriage. They both worked hard and rather than taking vacations, they saved and invested, waiting for the day they had their first child.

With the arrival of Jacob, their first baby, they talked and agreed that Tom would quit work to take care of the household while Janet continued to work. Janet had a more significant income and a better benefits program. This was a simple decision for the two of them. "Family First".

But shortly after the baby arrived and Janet returned to work, things started to take a turn. Tom found himself and the baby eating dinner without mom as she worked extra hours. Janet often brought work home and while she spent some time with the little one, much of her time at home was dedicated to work.

The strain took its toll and Janet and Tom found themselves arguing over petty things. The months passed and the resentment built.

One evening, after a particularly trying day, Tom sat down to relax for a moment with Janet before bed. She had her laptop open and was instant messaging with someone from work.

"You know", Tom blurted, "you say 'family first', but you're never here. Even when you are here, you're not here."

"How dare, you?", Janet responded, "I work for the family. I make money for the family. Everything I do is for the family! How can you possibly say I don't put family first after all the sacrifices I've made?"

"Sacrifices? Sacrifices? You're never here. You don't clean up the mess. You don't do the laundry! You don't do anything for the family, except help put Jacob to bed and put a check in the bank. I have to do it all."

"Of course I put a check in the bank! You don't work at all. You haven't even picked up a part-time job. You won't even consider putting Jacob into day care a couple days per week to help with all of this pressure. I have to do it all."

Shared ValuesTom and Janet agree on the value of "Family First". Neither of them is lying about that. Both of them are living those values. So how is it that it has come to this even before Jacob's second birthday?

Differing BeliefsTom believes that "Family First" means you spend time with the family. Play time, limited work hours, keeping the home, educating your children, and just being a supportive family to your children. Tom has made great sacrifices to live true to his values and he wants Janet to do the same.

Janet believes that "Family First" means supporting the family. Doing what it takes to provide them with the best schools, making sure they are provided healthy foods, providing a safe house, offering them a promising future, and being a support system for your children. Janet has made great sacrifices to live true to her values and she wants Tom to do the same.

Beliefs are held to be true

The boiling point of water is 100 °C (212 °F) at standard pressure. This is a fact. It is true.

Good parents spend ample quality time with their children. This is a belief. It is often held to be true, but that does not make it a fact.

We evaluate the behaviors of others by contrasting them with our values and beliefs. When someone says they share our values, we expect they will behave in a congruent manner. But that manner is shaped by our beliefs. Beliefs which they unlikely hold in the same degree and manner.

Consider your own beliefsDo they serve you well? Are they moving you toward or away from the things you hope to achieve? Why do you hold these beliefs? Could you change them?

Consider the beliefs of othersDo you know what they are? Can you accept them as valid from that individual's perspective? Does understanding a person at this level help you to better communicate with them? Better understand them? Better love them for who they are and not for who you want them to be?
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Comments

Shumona Kapil replied on Sun, 2012/02/19 - 9:44am

While it's important to identify shared values (as with the XP values you list), pairing that conversation with a description of the principles behind those values helps to uncover the beliefs behind them. When I work with team to draft their initial charter or revise it in ongoing chartering, we discuss values, then write 1 or 2 statements of principles that support those values. e.g., "We value Openness; therefore, we agree that Openness is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. We encourage everyone to speak up on topics that concern them or the team as a whole." Different teams (or couples) might describe the Openness principles very differently. For this team, the emphasis on Openness as a value related mostly to open discussion and ensuring that everyone's agenda was on the table. For another team, Openness might have more to do with sharing new knowledge.

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