When Values Alignment Rubber Hits the Road

In June of 2021, I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which left me with the most difficult challenge I’ve ever faced from a personal and a professional perspective. The average 5-year survival rate for people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is only 10%. With these odds in the back of my mind, I had to consider a lot of things as I entered treatment. When you’re hit with something this serious, a lot of things go through your head and there’s a huge number of things that have to be considered, notwithstanding the grueling treatment schedule that started within 48 hours of my diagnosis. 

There’s so much I could focus on about the journey, and I’ve covered a lot of it on the CaringBridge site I put together. What I really want to focus on is how PAIRIN responded to and supported me every step of the way – just like they promised they would. 

I remember my first conversation with PAIRIN’s CEO, Michael Simpson, about my cancer diagnosis well. He immediately said to me, “You and Tara (my wife) will not face this alone. We’ll be there for you every step of the way.” I’ve learned through my years of consulting and working with organizations that it’s very easy for people to say things, but they don’t always happen. One of the things I’ve learned about Michael and the PAIRIN team is that when we say something, we make it happen. 

When I was first diagnosed, I struggled with how much of this very personal experience I should share professionally, but my experiences with PAIRIN tipped my decision to transparency. When I was first diagnosed, I told those closest to me that I felt like Captain America in Avengers: Endgame. I felt like I was standing alone on a desolate battlefield, wounded and bloody with a broken shield facing off against Thanos and his entire army with no idea if anyone was going to help me. To my surprise, it was not long before people started to appear beside me. And one of them was PAIRIN. 

I’ve always been very passionate about values alignment. It’s a pretty simple concept that is basically the “say:do” index that a company has related to its values. Every company has a list of values that they purport to adhere to. PAIRIN has our own values that we have on our website. Values alignment is the concept of how closely a company aligns with the values it espouses (“say”) versus the values it enacts (“do”). When a company is aligned, it adheres to its values system, even when it’s difficult. A misaligned company pays lip service to its values but diverts from them if things become too difficult. The typical example of misalignment is when a company says that its employees are its most valuable resource, but when profits dip, they engage in downsizing or layoffs.

PAIRIN team members live our values throughout everything we do. We use them in our performance management, we reward our employees for being aligned with our values at our annual retreat with a company Values Award, and we also give out values coins and awards on a frequent basis to acknowledge when people show our values in their work on a daily basis. They’re ingrained in everything we do at the company. 

Today, I’d like to formally nominate my company, PAIRIN, for this year’s Values Award.

When my cancer journey began, it was difficult for me. I started with a difficult chemotherapy regimen. I had to go for chemo treatments every two weeks and each one of those lasted an entire day plus having to wear a chemo pump for 48 hours after I left. Each treatment left me feeling sick, weak, and for a full day, unable to see clearly. 

After eight sessions, my surgeon scheduled me for a Whipple surgery that basically removed large parts of my digestive tract and stitched it all back together. The surgery was more than ten hours and left me unable to digest food for three weeks. So, I spent more than three weeks in the hospital recovering.

Even when I left and came home, I spent several more weeks living primarily off of IV nutrition, and the next couple of months were filled with in-home nurse visits, chemo sessions, and lots of healing. Two months later, when I was finally able to return to work, I had been declared cancer-free, but I was still tired, beaten up, and recovering from a surgery that will take me upwards of a year to completely recover from. 

And throughout all of this, Michael and the entire PAIRIN team lived our values, especially “Value the whole person” and “Choose growth over comfort.” While I was in chemotherapy, they checked in on me frequently. They brought food and comfort gifts for me and my wife. While I was in surgery and in the hospital, they stayed in close contact with my wife to make sure that she was doing okay. They posted updates on the company Slack channel to keep everyone in the company informed of my status, and celebrated my successes while I was healing. After I came home, I was urged to take the time I needed to heal before coming back to work, assuring me that my job was still there. PAIRIN protected me and helped me heal as much as my own family and my doctors. 

Frankly, I believe I’m alive because of several factors, but one of them is definitely how PAIRIN treated me throughout this most difficult challenge of my life. So, I write this as a nomination for my company to win the annual company Values Award. PAIRIN made me feel valued as a whole person and I know for a fact that PAIRIN chose to face this challenge with me and grow from it. And I’m so incredibly proud to be a member of the PAIRIN family and to be able to share our values with all of our employees – both current and future.