Live core values, don't just memorize them

  • Published
  • By Gene Gallogly
  • Civil Engineer Directorate
ISE or Integrity, Service, Excellence; we see our core values on briefing charts, in correspondence, and in many of our day-to-day activities. Sometimes I wonder if we are becoming desensitized to the words or whether we are truly embracing our core values as part of our culture. 
   Not too long ago, I was leading a team finalizing a contract strategy for a large, multi-base project. We wanted to consolidate several related efforts to achieve economies of scale, but the federal acquisition regulations discourage "bundling" and require small business coordination. We were almost out of time to obligate the money before year-end and needed to get the work on contract to avoid violating regulatory agreements. 
   We also knew we would spend much more money if we contracted for each requirement separately. 
   We were running headlong into a common dilemma - do we ignore the bureaucratic rules to achieve the mission at the best price or do we jeopardize the mission and comply? 
   If we truly believe in our culture, it really isn't that hard of a decision. 
Our first core value of Integrity First tells us we must do the right thing. While it required some late nights to document our analysis and convince the Small Business Administration to allow us to proceed, it was a valuable exercise to ensure we were making the right decision. The bundling rule was written to prevent us from consolidating the requirements beyond the realm of small business.
    In the bigger scheme of things, the success of those businesses increases competition. Without the formal analysis, we couldn't really tell if we expected to save enough money to warrant eliminating small businesses from bidding on the work. 
   Our second core value, Service Before Self, also came into play in our decision. No one on the team expected or received overtime for the extra hours, and we probably could have disguised the bundling to get it by contracting and legal reviews. 
   When we take a shortcut though, the Air Force often suffers. If the contract was later challenged, the needed work would have come to a sudden halt. The Air Force's reputation would be damaged, and Congress may decide more rules are needed to prevent another occurrence. When we decide on a course of action, we simply have to look at what it means to the Air Force before we consider how it personally affects us as individuals. 
   Excellence in All We Do threw the team off course at first. Consolidating the work clearly drove efficiencies, consistency, and economies of scale - all the kinds of outcomes we hope for in AFSO21. However, those outcomes and doing the right thing were not mutually exclusive. We just had to ensure our logic and expectations were convincing enough to sell the idea to the rest of the acquisition team and the SBA. 
   In other instances, this third core value requires us to challenge and change the rules when they lead to poor choices or decisions. It's never in our best interest to violate or ignore the rules. Ignoring them just guarantees someone else will be faced with the same problem.
   At some point in your career, you're going to be faced with a similar situation. Do you live our core values or did you just memorize some words? Real leadership requires a commitment to these values. Without them, you may achieve short-term results, but the sustainable results so critical to AFSO21 will prove to be elusive.