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Monday, June 4, 2012

IT Professional Values

The Games People Play

People make their decisions and act, or not, based not on the moral fabric of person or society, but based on their personal values.  We each make our own decisions according to our own convictions underwritten by our personal values. 
Wikipedia defines “values” as: “...our subjective reactions to the world around us. They guide and mould our options and behaviour. Values have three important characteristics. 

First, values are developed early in life and are very resistant to change. Values develop out of our direct experiences with people who are important to us, particularly our parents. Values rise not out of what people tell us, but as a result how they behave toward us and others. 

Second, values define what is right and what is wrong. Notice that values do not involve external, outside standards to tell right or wrong; rather, wrong, good or bad are intrinsic. Third, values themselves cannot be proved correct or incorrect, valid or invalid, right or wrong. If a statement can be proven true or false, then it cannot be a value. Values tell what we should believe, regardless of any evidence or lack thereof.”   
The morality of a a person and its society is a collectively unwritten set of boundaries, rules and criteria that defines the group, and the terms for engagement with the group. The more aggressively this code of conduct is guarded and enforced is a direct indication of the value the members attach to the collective. 
Wikipedia defines “morality” as: “...the concept of human ethics which pertains to matters of good and evil —also referred to as "right or wrong", used within three contexts: individual conscience; systems of principles and judgments — sometimes called moral values —shared within a cultural, religious, secular, Humanist, or philosophical community; and codes of behavior or conduct. Personal morality defines and distinguishes among right and wrong intentions, motivations or actions, as these have been learned, engendered, or otherwise developed within each individual.”
It's fascinating that when an organism's very existence is threatened (people or otherwise), that it will not hesitate to breach any conventional understanding of right or wrong as pertained in its morality or moral fabric of his group. It will merely act to survive according to its personal values, which may at time be at odds with the rules or morality of the collective. 
For the collective to survive, they have to eradicate or justify this behavior. The strength and identity of the group rests on its vigilance in guarding its rules of engagement, and the degree of tolerance for members that dare to step outside this code of conduct. The more tolerant, the more diluted the strength of the group becomes.
In the last few months I've had two experiences that made me question the very essence of the morality of the industry in which we operate. Yes, I believe the I.T. industry, and also the organization's within this industry are groups of people that have its own rules and criteria that defines right from wrong. The industry and the companies in the industry has its own morality. How closely we guard this morality will determine the strengths of the collectives we create.
Confidentiality Breached

In the first experience I had to deal with a prominent New Zealand organization. The specific senior I.T. manager with this organization considered breaching the confidentiality of a candidate as acceptable and justifiable behavior. 
The I.T. Manager called the the candidate’s current employer and notified them that the candidate is in the market, and looking for a new position. Needless to say, the candidate and the current employer was in no way amused by these actions. 
Now, while the I.T. manager’s justification and motivations for these actions are still beyond my understanding it appeared to be supported by his seniors. It did raise the question for me: “How does an industry deal with an organization that considers itself justified in an unacceptable course of action?” 
The manager’s values clearly doesn’t sit well with anyone that is planning to work for him. It does appear that the Company he works for subscribes to this behavior and underwrites his actions. Something I find puzzling.
Your first reply could be: “Don’t deal with this client in future.” 
It is a significant organization in the market, therefore my reply: “That is not enough. Somehow, the industry should deal with elements like these, and expose their unprofessional conduct as individuals and as organizations.” It should simply not be tolerated.
In fact this has happened three times this year with three separate organizations. So, candidates beware, your information is not safe with prospective employers of low integrity.
Information Withheld

In the second instance another New Zealand organization, equally prominent, actively and knowingly “misled” one of the significant I.T. vendors in the market for several months, for the sole individual benefit of getting access to their intellectual property. Thereafter, proceeded to employ or engage individually the vendor’s staff one by one.
This has caused the vendor to have spent several million dollars in good faith, investing in product and functional improvements for the client - with the client’s knowledge - only for the client to renege on its commitment at the end of the engagement, with the vendor’s staff in hand.
What was the commitment? A continued working relationship whereby the investment amongst other commitments can be utilized jointly for the benefit of the client and the vendor’s future business prospects with the client.
I am not saying that vendors too don’t knowingly mislead clients. However, if relationships at this scale can go so significantly wrong over so many months, then it again begs the question: “How does an industry deal with an organization that considers itself justified in an unacceptable course of action?”
Vendors beware. Your client is out to get you.
Competence Deception

A common practice - so common that it has become the norm - is to assign people less than competent, or unqualified to a job and still charge the same fee to a customer, as if it is a qualified professional.
I have made the case often that I.T. vendors do not distinguish the competence of their I.T. Professionals, and the outcome is that the customer often has to pay for the Professional’s learning.
Are we merely in a business of lying and cheating?  Are we only competitive in stealing each other’s staff and intellectual property?  Is the only way we can get the deal, to mislead and lie and delay dealing with the fallout of deception?
In the long run this behavior should not survive. However, I am disturbed to find this still prevailing, and in my opinion increasing the more flexible I.T. business engagements become.
I hope that this is not the industry we aspire to be. I hope that organizations and individuals participating each day in defining the moral fiber of what we do in I.T. takes a strong view against practices like these. I certainly do.
If we as individuals don’t take a stand, then the morality of our group is worth nothing. 
I have once been asked the difference between a Second-Hand Car Salesman and an I.T. Sales Person. The answer: “ The Second-Hand Car Salesman knows when he is lying.” 
The Values of the I.T. Professional

What are the values we need to aspire to as I.T. Professionals? I suggest we need to start with one.
I am a firm believer that every person needs to be casted in the I.T. role most appropriate for his or her skills. This however does not distract from the key ingredient that defines the base moral fiber of our collective. This is the one aspect we use as guiding principles for how we conduct ourselves and how we would like others to treat us.
At the top list of the values, I propose: Integrity. 
Let’s be honest about what we know and don’t know. Let’s be clear about what we can and cannot do. Let’s do as we say we will do. Honor your word. This is a guiding principle I have no doubt, you’ve been taught as a child: “Do to others as you would like to have done to yourself.”
Other values of creativity, commitment, respect for others, all make up the good things we aspire as people to be. 
However, to fundamentally change what we do in I.T., I request that we clean up our Professional integrity for the sake of our fellow I.T. Professionals and that of our clients (hoping they share the same value). 
Then our clients will trust us when we say: “We can improve your business.” We can then call on their integrity in return, to reward our effort and commitment, to see their businesses improve and succeed.
Your comments and feedback is welcome as always.
Hendrik van Wyk

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