Living by the Principles
Hereâ€™s another question I received by email:
“I work for a consulting company (50 people) and have been in the business 10 years. Recently our partners rolled out a list of “guiding principles” for the company. You talk a lot about setting minimum standards of behavior and strict adherence to group values. So I tried to create a way whereby we could measure if we were living by these principles.
I suggested to the partners that we create a checklist whereby the employees can rate the partners on how well we think they are living up to the standards. This received a lukewarm response – “Weâ€™ll think about it”.
For reference, here are our “guiding principles” (by the way, it seems almost impossible for any one human to meet them all):
We believe that trust is fundamental to success in our business, which means we must be transparent, reliable, accepting and congruent. We must do what weâ€™ve said weâ€™ll do, we must be clear in our expectations and opinions, be accepting of mistakes and limitations of others, and â€œwalk our talkâ€. We must also be sincere, hear and acknowledge others, be candid and straight, and demonstrate integrity and clarity with boundaries.
We believe that individuals are the source of who they are, how they feel, behave and perform. We can choose to be a player and not a victim, and can lead with head and heart. We recognize that we can choose to be inspiring, self-motivated and determined. We take on accountabilities out of creative cause, not for praise or credit, or out of burden, blame or guilt.
We seek out perspective because we donâ€™t believe in â€œrightâ€ answers, just better interventions. This requires us to be thoughtful, self aware, humble and low ego. But we are not afraid to have a point of view on what we believe can work better.
We judge performance by what is achieved, but in the meantime we assume positive intent. We believe in courage and energy, look for the positive and are future focused. We recognise that performance is situational and some achievements need to be judged over longer time periods. We set high standards, welcome challenge and are honest and transparent about our own performance.
We are aware of our interactions with the world and the opportunity to learn from our successes and failures. We are comfortable with ambiguity and use an enabling leadership style that allows people to experiment and learn. We donâ€™t take ourselves too seriously. We believe upsets are setups for learning.
We are externally curious and understand the value of seeing and acting beyond ourselves. We value the thoughts and suggestions of others and invite them into all our conversations. We actively encourage collaboration and interdependency.
We believe in people. We are supportive, and show empathy and compassion to see the potential in everyone. We understand the importance of meaning at a personal level, and how active appreciation can counteract fear. We believe we engage with the whole of a person, not just their work persona and are sensitive to cultural diversity. We encourage health and life balance. We believe businesses should do good when theyâ€™re doing great.
David, what do you think about such things? If we create these great aspirations but don’t hold people accountable what good are they? (Ironically, youâ€™ll note that one of the guiding principles is “accountability.”)
The questioner has answered his or her own questions, right? If itâ€™s humanly impossible to live up to the standards, what do the partners mean to convey when they pronounce them? What is achieved by stating your commitments to the unachievable? And if youâ€™re not willing to be evaluated on what you say you stand for, what do people think you mean?
Note that I donâ€™t think it â€œimmoralâ€ to enunciate principles youâ€™re not prepared to be accountable for — I just think youâ€™re fooling yourself as to the beneficial impact of preaching them. My experience says itâ€™s even worse than neutral: you train people to see that you cannot be depended upon to act according to what you advocate, and they end up either trusting you less or just ignoring what you preach.
What do the rest of you think? Does all this mean that firms shouldnâ€™t even try to enunciate their principles? Should they survey everyone each year and publish the results? Internally? Externally? How many firms — good or bad, successful or unsuccessful, actually do that?