(Warning:  This is squishy and abstract and has nothing to do with developer technology.)

I just came back from a management development course called “Values-based Leadership”.  The premise of the course is that by understanding one's personal values and melding them with the company's values, one can provide more credible and effective leadership.  I had a few thoughts and questions afterwards - I figure I'll put them out to the world and see what comes back...

First of all, in case people don't know Microsoft actually has company values :-), they are:

  • Integrity and honesty.
  • Passion for customers, partners, and technology.
  • Open and respectful with others and dedicated to making them better.
  • Willingness to take on big challenges and see them through.
  • Self-critical, questioning, and committed to personal excellence and self-improvement.
  • Accountable for commitments, results, and quality to customers, shareholders, partners, and employees.

These are listed at microsoft.com, but I was a little surprised just now to see that they aren't explained in more depth.  There's more information/depth internally. 

It was pretty interesting watching ~40 managers from around the company  tackle something as squishy as personal values.  There are lot of pretty analytical people in the company and at times we'd fall back to business questions, probably because we felt more comfortable there.  On the other hand, we did the classic MS technique - make a list, prioritize it, and then draw a line - to identify which values were important to each of us personally. 

During the class we assessed how we are doing in terms of understanding and living these values.  Our view wasn't particularly surprising - we felt we do great on passion for technology and big challenges, but not so well on open and respectful or the ones around customers and partners.  There was a great discussion around how our customers/partners would rate us, i.e. were we being honest enough with ourselves.  This is one of my questions - how do you think we're doing?  I was eager to ask this but when I saw how little external information there is about these I realized you may not have enough to have an opinion.  Open and respectful is an interesting one - the part that people sometimes struggle with internally is respectful.  Probably both are an issue externally. 

In general I think the values are great, but there are two areas I struggle a bit with.  First, I don't think passionate is the right word with respect to customers and partners.  It reminds me a bit of a short-term affair - lots of passion, no commitment in the long-term.  The value is meant to get at things like caring deeply about understanding exactly what the customer need is and doing a great job addressing it.  But it misses - for me - the long-term commitment necessary to truly serve customers.  There is the value around accountability for commitments, but that's sort of transaction-oriented - we're accountable for the commitments we make, but that doesn't mean we're committed overall.  Going back to the premise of the class, I guess this is an opportunity for me to meld my personal value (commitment) with the company value (passionate) and provide leadership.  Here's a question - passionate or commited? 

The second thing is a bit harder to describe (and maybe related to passionate/commited) - I'd like to see something around commitment to people.  Open and respectful partly gets at that - when you are truly commited to someone, you have the hard conversations and do it in a respectful way.  Accountability to the various stakeholders partly gets at it.  But as a manager there's a situation I sometimes face that the values doesn't get at - a person does great work for a while and ok work now but they've reached their potential and maybe I can replace them with someone with more potential.  Viewed through a commitment to people/individuals, I start thinking about the person's family, the relationships our customers have with that individual, the wisdom the person can provide to those around him, etc.. Stating a value is never going to make that decision easy, but it would acknowledge that those other considerations are relevant. 

Do the company values make sense?  Did you know that the Evil Empire has values?  Do we walk the talk?  Is the trend headed in the right direction?