Contributing to Company Values

A friend/former colleague of mine is starting a company, and from the outset he wants to codify values by which the organization will be run.

After drafting a proposed set of values and principles, he reached out to a few folks to provide input. I feel quite strongly about such things (codifying leadership principles and structure? sign me up!), so I appreciated the opportunity to weigh in and to contribute something to what could well become one of the region’s hottest tech companies in the coming years.

In this post, I’ll share some of my comments and the reasoning behind them.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a recurring theme of accountability, empowerment, and discipline.

pexels-photo-373328-sheds

Emphasizing “Live Discussions”

One of the values emphasizes the importance of live discussions, over long drawn-out email threads, lots of background chatter, and so on.

I think this philosophy is important, but in my comments I suggested something that goes one step further: more conversations, fewer meetings.

I think this philosophy is important, but in my comments I suggested something that goes one step further: more conversations, fewer meetings.

Why? In my experience, as organizations mature meetings take over, become self-propagating, and create enormous latency (e.g., “I’ll book a meeting for next week to talk about that” vs. just having a short convo right now).

I’ve ranted about explored meetings in some depth elsewhere on this blog, partly because I believe they’re perhaps the single largest form of waste for most organizations (and there’s quite a bit of research that supports this assertion). If I’m ever running a company, being disciplined about meetings will be a major leadership point.

So, with that in mind, let’s try to capture the efficiency and velocity of conversations, while avoiding the downsides of poorly conceived and executed meetings.

“Maximizing the Amount of Work Not Done”

I really like this one…in my previous company, we always had a tendency to just take on more, and more, and more. While perhaps this habit was testament to our positive attitude, it showed immaturity and ultimately diluted our efforts for the things that mattered most.

We have to be smart about how we use our valuable, limited resources; in previous posts, I’ve used the term “return on energy” to capture that it isn’t just effort, money, time, etc.

“Equal Opportunity and Respect”

This point was about relying on merit, rather than strict adherence to hierarchy, but it reminded me of a recurring point of frustration I’ve both experienced directly and heard from others over the years.

So in my comments, I said: “Of course I agree in principle”, because I’m all for merit-based decision-making, rather than HiPPO (highest-paid person’s opinion), but I added, “…this is a decent leaping-off bullet for another point I want to put forward: clear functional ownership (related to accountability).”

In my career, I’ve observed far too many people getting involved in far too many things, when they should’ve just let the functional owner actually own it – and deal with any consequences. Often, this behaviour manifests as leaders micromanaging down through the chain, frequently about trivial things (e.g., bike-shedding), or people in general crossing functional domains with well-intentioned, but poorly informed, opinions, etc.

I originally had a bunch of content in this post to expand on this point, but it got pretty long…so I’m just gonna break it out into a separate post at some point.

“…Over Processes and Tools”

I can’t recall the exact language of this point, but it was about being effective and not getting bogged down by too many processes and tools, or by strictly adhering to cumbersome structures, etc.

Again, I’m in 100% agreement in principle and literal meaning, but the comment that I provided was that it might be worth recognizing that anarchy isn’t a productive option, either, but it can be an emergent behavior when processes are shunned entirely.

In some organizations of which I’ve been a part, too much was left to a well-intentioned approach of “You’re smart, just do what you think is right!”

I’ll say, also, that I think this phenomenon is the result of empowerment without discipline or accountability – the three really need to go together. Again, it was well-meaning, but unsustainable in a well-functioning business.

Unfortunately, left unchecked, the result over time is massive inconsistency and constant reinvention, rather than the emergent evolution of effective processes.

Unfortunately, left unchecked, the result over time is massive inconsistency and constant reinvention, rather than the emergent evolution of effective processes.

I’m a big fan of JEP (Just Enough Process), and of functional discipline, because of the resulting benefits. JEP acknowledges that yes, maybe there should be particular ways of doing things – and that the right amount of ‘process’ varies by task (so, some things are worth very minimal process, like a short checklist, while others demand significantly more) – while the discipline component conveys an expectation of professionalism and (again!) accountability.

Yes, lots of people find processes threatening or demeaning or perceive them as unnecessary, but suck it up and be a professional.

“Responding to Change”

Ding ding ding!

I loved this one…a plan based on an old reality or old information is perhaps worse than no plan at all. Perhaps you’ve heard me talk about Obliquity?

Some General Comments

In addition to responding to particular values and principles, I ‘contributed’ a couple of general thoughts.

Decisiveness

Many folks would rather push off a decision or avoid making one entirely, at enormous opportunity and organizational cost, than deal with the stress of potentially making the wrong decision.

I suggested my friend build decisiveness into the company’s core identity. Why? Because many folks would rather push off a decision or avoid making one entirely, at enormous opportunity and organizational cost, than deal with the stress of potentially making the wrong decision.

I had a conversation with a team member one time that went something like this:

Me: “You’re taking far too long to make decisions…things that should take a few days are taking weeks, and it’s becoming a real problem by slowing everything down.”

Team Member: “I don’t want to make the wrong decision.”

Me: “Yes, I understand…but pushing out the decision is worse in all of these cases. You could’ve spent a few days to gather and analyze information, then made the decision, then measured and corrected within a week or two if it turned out to be wrong. And pull me in if you want my thoughts on something.”

Team Member: “I don’t want my career and reputation to be tarnished by making wrong decisions.”

Me: “People get over wrong decisions, so long as you make enough right decisions. But you’ll never be effective without making decisions.”

So something about making decisions, monitoring the outcome, and course-correcting would be useful as a foundation for how the business expects people to operate. Unless the downside is catastrophic, it’s usually better (and faster, and ultimately more efficient) to make the wrong decision now and then correct it quickly than to just delay, delay, delay.

To reiterate: lots of people talk about being decisive, but in my experience many are extremely uncomfortable – and deliberately reluctant – actually making decisions (that’s not meant as a knock against them, but just as a pragmatic recognition of reality).

Accountability

I also suggested explicitly capturing something about accountability. In my experience, many organizations suffer from an enormous lack of accountability – to disastrous effect….far too much to get into in this post. I’d link the concept to empowerment: you’re empowered, but accountable (and will be treated fairly).

Leadership Principles

I think organizations should make the commitment to (and create the expectation within) their people that leadership will be taken very seriously and done right.

Also, there wasn’t anything explicitly captured in the values about leadership. I’d love to see organizations capture something about the Objectives –> Strategies –> Tactics golden rule of leadership. I think organizations should make the commitment to (and create the expectation within) their people that leadership will be taken very seriously and done right. So none of the BS where folks just leap to a bunch of tactics and then try to pretend like they’re part of some strategy.

Troubles with Tech

And my final note was a suggestion to build something in about ethical use of technology, protections of customer data, and so on.

To be clear, I don’t know what this company’s tech will do…but this topic just seems like something of which you want people to be aware, right from the get-go.

Lee Brooks is a technology marketer based in the high-tech hub of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

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Posted in Everything, Leadership, Management

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