How To Create Guiding Principles For Your Company's Culture

Guiding principles are rules that leaders use to select the tactics they’re going to use. Think of them as the “shalls”and “shall-nots” of the company culture that keep everyone true to their stated purpose.

Without guiding principles, companies end up clutching any available tactic in order to try to hit their numbers. Just as you would never build a house without a foundation because it would topple, trying to have a culture of urgency without a set of guiding values will ensure only that the company is in constant turmoil and eventually will careen out of control.

Guiding principles should be simply stated and easy for everyone to understand but based on tremendous underlying wisdom. Each should be broad enough to guide actions at every level, from the shop floor to the C-suite, yet specific enough that people can see where they are
accountable. They should be inspirational and memorable enough to make your people proud of this call to action. Here are a few ways to create and cascade your guiding principle.

Make a Short List: You don’t need more than five or six guiding principles. State each guiding principle in as few words as possible, and then hang some flesh on the bones with a brief explanation that provides context.

Buy-in at the Top: One of the best ways of gaining buy-in from the rest of the top leaders is by involving them in the creation and drafting of the guiding principles. Committing your guiding principles to paper shouldn’t take long. Chances are good that there are already a number of values you share.

Flow Guiding Principles Through the Company: If you’re leading a small company, the best way to move the guiding principles down through the company is in a series of one-on-one or small-group meetings. In a large enterprise, it’s better to opt for a gathering of the top leadership and have the top dog present the guiding principles.

Post Them Everywhere: If it’s true that calling someone a horse 10 times means they’ll start looking for hay, then the same applies to guiding principles. When they’re everywhere around people and when they encounter them scores of times throughout their typical workday, it’s inevitable they’ll eventually sink in.

Celebrate Them: Start every staff meeting by singling out someone who scored a win through the use of your guiding principles. Or feature on the front page of your website the employee of the month who best exemplifies living your values and putting them into action.

Get Rid of the CAVE people: Despite your best efforts to help them out, one of the big challenges occasionally faced by leaders is facing card-carrying members of Citizens Against Virtually Everything(CAVE). These are the whiners, whingers and complainers who believe that yesterday was better than tomorrow and that the company’s best days were in the past. Go ahead and counsel them one more time; try to get them on board. But if you fail, they need to leave. Do it for cause, do it legally and do it quickly.

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