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The Boomer Bulletin - 2011
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Glass Balls and Core Values

Posted By Scott Morrill, Tuesday, December 13, 2011
My coaching philosophy is best summed up by the following statement:  "Winning is everything – but the score at the end of the game doesn’t define winners and losers.”  Sure, that sounds like coach-speak from someone who’s used to losing a lot of games.  But the point of the philosophy is that the length of the game is somewhat arbitrary and it can be dangerous to let it unduly influence a team’s strategies.

I believe that the "length of the game” can also unduly influence business practices.  In this article I’ll use an example from sports to help clarify my point and then ask you to reevaluate your core values.  As a shortcut in this article, I’m going to label the "length of the game” as the "time metric”.

I think that we would all agree that the time metric is a necessary and useful tool.  I think we’d also agree that winning and losing are both important motivational factors that we use in making life and business decisions.  What I’m going to be arguing is that over-valuing short term measurements is a factor in creating an epidemic of problems throughout our society.

Can Losers Win and Winners Lose?

Sports and games often mirror serious real-life situations so they can be used to teach core values that can be applied when facing real-life decisions.  To the uninitiated, many sports appear to be silly games played for entertainment.  However, to those who coach and play, they are learning tools for skills like hand-to-hand combat, decision making, teamwork and strategic thinking.

In a few months, 68 college basketball teams will participate in a tournament to determine a national champion – a team that will be long remembered as the best college basketball team of the 2011-12 season.  One team will win and 67 teams will lose.  You’d think it’d be a pretty conclusive system for defining winners and losers.  But games are often won or lost based on the outcome of things beyond the control of the participants – an injury to a key player, an official’s error, an underdog being able to overachieve in one special game.  There have been seven national championship games decided in overtime and another four determined by a single point.  In addition, many eventual champions survived at least one game whose outcome was determined on the last play of the game.  So is the winning team really more successful than the losing team?  Would changing the time metric impact your decision?  In other words, would the results be different if the game were but a few seconds shorter or longer?

In case you’ve forgotten, the University of Connecticut (UConn) defeated Butler for the national championship in college basketball last year.  Both programs developed strategies and made sacrifices in order to earn their way into that specific championship game.  But for the next three years UConn will be penalized for recruiting violations – violations which weren’t proven to have impacted the game but which introduced some suspicion about the core values of the program.

When measured on an annual time metric, UConn is a winner and Butler is a loser – and to me, that’s indicative of a danger.  The problem is not in having a time metric but in valuing the short term result more than the long term impact.  Greed, for lack of a better word, describes the motive that drives one to sacrifice one of society’s core values for a short term result.

Greed is defined as an excessive desire for wealth or power, often more than one’s proper share.  Consider how the excessive desire for wealth or power played a role in other stories that dominated the sports page this past fall – conference realignment and the NBA lockout.

But I Thought "Greed Is Good”

When measured with a short-term time metric, greed looks good.  UConn fans get to celebrate a rare accomplishment, schools get to develop new rivalries and NBA players and owners eventually reach a compromise that everyone can live with for several additional years.  However, greed is not free of consequences.  In each of those examples someone is being hurt economically.  Now let’s turn to topics in the real world.
  • Global recession – which according to the Senate’s Levin-Coburn report was "the result of high risk, complex financial products; undisclosed conflicts of interest; and the failure of regulators, the credit rating agencies, and the market itself to rein in the excesses of Wall Street.”
  • Iran’s Nuclear Ambition – will the quest for ultimate power trigger the next war?
  • Congressional deadlock – where the desire to win elections every two years trumps the core value of working as a team.
  • Global warming – we’ve only been drilling for oil a little over 150 years.  What happens if we have to live on this planet for another billion?
There’s a Revolution Against Greed

Dictators can probably be considered the grand masters of greed and Arab Spring is the current actual revolution against greed.  But rival drug cartels have been fighting the Mexican Drug War and Mexican President Felipe Calderon has employed 45,000 troops in their country’s fight against the cartel’s greed.

In the United States, the Occupy Movement appears to essentially be a statement against greed.  Initiated as a protest against the influence of Wall Street, it has now morphed into a complaint about the concentration of wealth among the top 1% of income earners.  Although I think it’s a revolt against greed, I personally think they have misidentified the greedy.  Greed and charity exist at all levels of economic circumstances.

The Responsibilities of the Most Trusted Advisor

This is a great year for the accounting industry to step up and take a role in reestablishing credibility within the corporate world.  Reeducate about the value of audits.  Help your clients find competitive advantages so they aren’t tempted to violate core values.  Above all, adhere to your own core values.  Here are three important steps that you should implement.

First, take an opportunity to spend time reviewing your core values during your annual strategic planning summit.  Make sure that your staff understands the meaning and importance of each principle.  Spell out the responsibilities for new hires and those with generational and cultural differences.

Second, lead by example.  There is a moral attributed to an ancient Chinese philosopher, "don’t lie for me because if you can lie for me, you can also lie to me.”  It’s hard to lead others on a path you’re not willing to travel.

Third, don’t over-value the short term time metric.  Don’t compromise your core values for something that might not be important in the long run.  Rebecca Ryan compares making life decisions to juggling.  "Some of the balls we juggle are made of rubber and some are made of glass.  You can drop a rubber ball without damaging it.  But core values are like glass balls.  If you drop one you’ll never be able to completely restore it.” 

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