Many of us give careful consideration to the external threats to our company. Competition, economic conditions, global uncertainty, supply chain, cash flow and access to capital are all things that can harm our business.
Some of us give careful consideration to the dangers lurking within our company – our people.
However, our focus is typically in the wrong area. We often focus on the underperformers – the employees that are dragging us down. Rarely do we focus on the smartest people in our company though, and that can be a mistake.
Sometimes, the most dangerous person in your company is one of your best performers, one of your smartest people. The reason they’re dangerous is because their values don’t align with the company’s values.
The Impact of Your Core Values
Core values define your existence – both personal and professional. They are timeless, require no external justification and have intrinsic value. They can serve as a compass for strategic decisions, and they shouldn’t change dramatically over time, if at all. Your core values and beliefs are at the very heart of what you do each and every day.
If your values are strong and consistent across your organization, they will define the type of people that join your team. People band together over values more than they do for anything else; all business partnerships, relationships, and teams are defined in their culture by this one issue. Values define your culture by providing both an axis and an anchor for the people who make your company a success.
The Danger of the Misaligned
Most executives, at one time or another, have had a talented person on their team with very different definitions of success, for both themselves and the company. It may be you knew their values weren’t aligned, but you felt their skills were essential.
Or it may be that you attracted them because your company’s core values are misaligned or unclear. How might you determine that? Carefully evaluate your turnover. If it’s high, if people’s departures are emotional, or if you cannot attract top people with anything but money, it’s possible that your values need to be addressed.
Regardless of how he or she got there, when a talented employee doesn’t hold your values, they can become toxic. At that point, you might just as well hire your competitors to give you advice on how to run your business. Employees that don’t share your values will eventually create problems both inside the organization and outside. Trust me there are no other alternatives – it will happen! I always suggest to the executives I coach to determine with a problem employee if the problem is a “behavioral problem” or a “values problem.” You can fix the behavior, but you’ll likely never correct the values problem.
I’m not the only former CEO who believes this. Jack Welch, the iconic former CEO of GE, said that the most dangerous employee is not the rude, insensitive, actively disengaged employee, but the one with the talent who does not hold to the values of the corporation. While the actively disengaged employee will hurt the company, it is those employees who, no matter how talented, are conflicted about the company values that will eventually cause the greatest harm. These are the people Welch would immediately get rid of.
I would too.