Leaders may know intuitively that having clearly stated operating principles or values is a healthy step for an organization. But once they are created, what happens next? Follow the example of netlogx and learn three ways to unleash the power of the principles.
Creating operating principles or values statements is a way to build trust. Operating principles describe the way members of an organization behave in interactions with each other and those they serve—customers, clients, students, stakeholders. Having operating principles clearly spelled out makes expectations crystal clear. Operating principles also give anyone in the organization a way to talk about behavior that is outside the boundaries.
Although common themes can usually be seen, every organization will express operating principles differently. If your office or work group has established operating principles—bravo! You have taken a step towards creating and maintaining a healthy workplace. What’s next? How can you put them to work?
1. Talk about them as a group
netlogx is an Indianapolis-based information technology and security company poised to expand not only nationally, but internationally. While growing, the company also intends to retain its status as a family-friendly preferred employer.
At the start of the company’s expansion journey, Audrey Taylor, Managing Partner and the executive team identified a draft of operating principles and then took the draft to the entire group of 30+ team members. The aim of this all-hands meeting was to make the operating principles more real for everyone. The question was, “Think of a situation in which netlogx will ‘live’ each of these principles.” Working in small groups, the netlogx staff described many current activities and scenarios where the operating principles were clearly already in full swing. An additional operating principle was suggested by the staff and added to the official netlogx list. (Talking about what the principles look like in action is essential if they are going to guide behavior. Especially for the new team members in the group, the netlogx discussion evoked a response of “Wow, this is really a great place to be.”(netlogx Operating Principles are shown below.)
2. Use to screen new team members
netlogx expects to at least double its staff in the next several years. The operating principles make a nuanced screening tool for selecting new team members. Using the list in the interview, ask the question, “Which of our operating principles appeal to you most and why?” This gives people who are most likely to fit into this culture an opportunity to show it. People who really resonate to the principles will be able to provide examples of how they have encountered situations that relate or why they believe the principles are important. Anyone who can’t make a personal connection with at least several of the operating principles is probably not a good gamble.
3. Use in performance review
In addition to discussing goals and objectives in a performance review, ask team members how they have “lived” the operating principles in carrying out their work. Ask them which of the principles are most challenging to live out on a daily basis. This conversation may point towards particular professional development. For example, a manager may reveal that he or she is very uncomfortable to give team members negative feedback (e.g. communicate honestly), even when a change is clearly needed. This can be addressed with online learning, role-playing, identifying a mentor, attending a seminar or workshop, or “bibliotherapy,” like the always excellent Crucial Conversation Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second Edition (Patterson, et al., 2012).
Most every organization will violate its own operating principles at one time or another. Perfection is not the goal. Awareness and sincere intentions to live by the principles are what matter. If tended to over time, as described here, the principles can shape behavior and soak into the bones of the organization. When the principles are violated, give team members (or yourself) a “do-over” and move forward. A slip doesn’t mean the operating principles aren’t working. In fact, acknowledging a slip is an indication that the principles are alive and well.
netlogx Operating Principles
Possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles and professional standards
Express consideration or thoughtfulness in relation to somebody or something
Connect clearly, honestly, directly, frequently, and with empathy with anyone in the organization
Acknowledgment of achievement
Make decisions, learn from the outcomes and thereby develop a greater sense of confidence or self-worth
Embrace challenges, managing expectations and taking practical and pragmatic responsibility for their work
Note: Humor is an underlay for all the principles.
For more information, visit netlogx.
Author and consultant Kathleen A. Paris, Ph.D., speaks on healthy workplaces, provides consulting for strategic planning, process improvement and redesign, and professional development for leaders. Read more »