A ship without a rudder...

Throughout my career and education there have been many instances of defining goals, strategies, mission statements, corporate values, etc. Like many best practices in business they seem to be fads and have limited value. The value is usually gained by going through the exercise of defining these items and then is short lived if the exercise is not repeated as needed. A quick Google search of Mission Statements demonstrates that the once and done approach often causes a disconnect between “the then” and “the now”. Even Google has problems staying current. "Google’s chief executive Larry Page has admitted that the company has outgrown its mission statement to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” from the launch of the company in 1998, but has said he doesn’t yet know how to redefine it."

For an organization to be effective and for employees to understand what is expected of them there must be a target and direction. Corporate culture, on-boarding and training can play a part in this knowledge transfer but there should be documentation to eliminate ambiguity. Yes, I used the dreaded “D Word” – documentation. As a signor of the Agile Manifesto I am a firm believer in the principle of working software over comprehensive documentation. So, to many it will be surprising that I am advocating documentation especially since the introductory paragraph indicates that in most cases the documentation becomes obsolete.

Rather than spending hours in a conference room defining Goals, Strategies, Mission Statements, etc. I prefer to use Guiding Principles that set clear behavior expectations that align with the business objectives. That means I should define the business objectives first, well not necessarily. Business objectives are dynamic and are sometimes as micro as an individual project. If your team members know what behavior is expected of them they’ll get the work completed. Notice I didn’t say, “accomplish their goals” or “achieve their objectives”. Business is about getting “the right stuff done”. Self-managed teams with clear behavior expectations will produce extraordinary results.

DISCLAIMER - The use of Guiding Principles is not new nor is my list, many of the ideas have been borrowed from business and leadership books/articles (many from The One Thing) or from concepts that have been valuable in my previous roles. The Guiding Principles below encapsulate expectations for my current business setting and align with my leadership style. They are in no particular order and may at first glance even seem to be common sense to most.

1.    Prioritize - When everything feels urgent and important, everything seems equal. Activity is often unrelated to productivity, and busyness rarely takes care of business. Not everything matters equally, and success isn’t a game won by whoever does the most. Pause just long enough to decide what matters and then allow what matters to drive your day.

2.    Focus & Stay on Task - Distraction, disturbance, disruption. Staying on task is exhausting. You can do two things at once, but you can’t focus effectively on two things at once. Researchers estimate that workers are interrupted every 11 minutes and then spend almost a third of their day recovering from these distractions. Identify THE task you need to complete, everything else is a distraction! 

3.    Eliminate Work-Life Balance - Work/Life balance is a myth! To be extraordinary at anything you must be passionate and committed to a result. “Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you’re keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls— family, health, friends, integrity— are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.” Counterbalanceis the key difference, instead of juggling tasks with partial effort dedicated to many, dedicate all your effort to one thing and then to another.

4.    Be a Fanatic about Response Time - Our customers expect us to respond to questions and concerns quickly, whether it is in-person, on the phone or by E-Mail/Text. This includes simply acknowledging that we got the question and we’re “on it”, as well as keeping those involved continuously updated on the status of out-standing issues. A voice mail left or Email sent does not constitute a closed communication! The communication must be acknowledged by the client to complete the sender - receiver cycle. Honor commitments, earn peoples trust by doing what you say you are going to do. Hold yourself accountable, follow-up and follow-through.

5.    Think and Act Like an Owner - Make decisions by asking yourself, “what would I do if this were my organization and my money?” “Could I be making the company more or saving more by doing it differently?”. Spend time and the organizations money like it is yours. The way to become an owner is to think like an owner! Start-ups and early stage tech companies often reward loyal employees at key events.

6.    Embrace Change - It’s more than just a cliché. What got us here is not the same as what will get us to the next level. Get outside your comfort zone, rather than stubbornly holding on to the old ways of doing things. Be excited about the possibilities that change bring. Change is constant!

7.    Practice Blameless Problem Solving - Just Fix It! Apply your creativity and enthusiasm to developing solutions, rather than pointing fingers or dwelling on problems. Identify lessons learned and use those lessons to improve ourselves and our processes so we don’t make the same mistake twice.

8.    Invest in Relationships - Our business is built on trust and trust is built on relationships. Make smart decisions that enhance long-term relationships. Nobody cares what we know until they know we care. Show them that you sincerely care.

9.    Communicate Effectively (Listen Generously) Listening is simply more than just “not speaking”. It’s giving your undivided attention to the needs and priorities of others. Set aside your own judgements and pre-conceived ideas. Listen with care and empathy. Most importantly listen to get eh big picture and the details. (Speak Straight) Speak honestly in a way that moves the action forward. Say what you mean, be willing to ask questions, share ideas, or raise issues that may cause conflict. Be diplomatic but not fake or hypocritical! Address issues directly with those that are affected and involved.

10.  Lead by Example - The best way to influence others is by your own example. Don’t wait for others to change. Take responsibility both formally and informally to coach, guide, mentor, and teach others. A true measure of your leadership is how well your team performs when you are not there. There are many types of power don’t rely on positional power to influence.

11.  Deliver Legendary Service - See every interaction as an opportunity to create an extraordinary experience. Take the extra steps to amaze people and create experiences they’ll tell others about. Do the unexpected for both internal and external customers. 

12.  Be Positive – Said another way “avoid negativity and negative people at all costs”. We will have problems, we will have difficult customers, things won’t go perfectly every time or even any time. Focus on the things that we are doing well and use the things that don’t go so well as a lesson on how to improve next time. NEVER let anyone bash fellow employees, our customers or our company. You are better off to leave for another opportunity than to stay and complain about the situation you are in. Are you part of the problem or part of the solution? Your attitude is contagious – make it worth catching!

When problems and issues arise they can usually be traced back to losing focus on our Guiding Principles. It’s no coincidence that there are 12 Guiding Principles. As a company, we explore one principle per month. Employees are chosen to research, expand and present the principle at a companywide meeting. Over the next few months I’ll expand on each one of the principles and I welcome criticism, feedback and your thoughts.