Deals Only Work When Values Align

Business valuesRight before the holidays began, Warren Buffet explained one of his deeply held business rules. He only does deals and works with those he likes. Period. This is true values alignment and without it, things usually take a bad turn quickly. As he says, he could engage in lots of lucrative deals but doing so would cause his stomach to turn because of the people he has to shake hands with at the end of the day. One bad act does not define a human being. Several bad acts speak to character.

As I have written in my book “The Great Culture Disconnect,” business is much easier when you do business with those whom you share values. This does not mean you need to agree with someone on everything. In fact, some of my favorite clients and friends are those with whom I can have spirited debates on issues and in the end, because of the values we hold true, we part friends. Disagreeing with someone on a deal point, way to achieve a goal, or how to collaborate is not a difference in values, it’s a difference of opinion. A difference in values is what Buffet is talking about – doing business with someone who is dishonest or morally bankrupt would violate his deeply held values.

This is why your values don’t have to match exactly with the company you are working with, but they can’t be at cross purposes or opposite of yours. For example, two people can both believe that homeless people should be given help but may not agree on the methods to do so. Agreement on a value, but varying strategies or tactics for how to achieve it. (If only congress could start thinking this way.)

The conversation today about an employee backlash at some of the big tech firms is precisely because a lot of these employees have realized the company is doing things diametrically opposed to their core values and they are hitting back – either leaving or in some cases, sabotaging the software they created. Although I certainly don’t condone the latter behavior, I do understand it.

I believe the polarization in politics today is largely due to confusion over behaviors and values. No one is a bad person because they believe in a certain politician or share values with that politician. They are just very different from yours and therefore, you would not vote for them or perhaps not associate with them.

Before you take a new job, join a group, do a business deal or vote, ask yourself, do I like this person or these people? Take Buffet’s advice and walk away if the answer is no. You’ll be glad you did.