From values to principles

Creating these principles has been more valuable and inspiring than we could have hoped

principle, noun

1) a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.

One of the things I love about dxw is our public Playbook and the set of Values it contains.

As the Playbook says:

“These are the values that we aspire to, and help each other to achieve.”

At our company retreat last summer we thought about how we can turn these values into day-to-day habits and good choices.

We decided to create a set of principles for each profession that describes how colleagues doing different kinds of work live up to our collective values.

Since the retreat, I’ve been helping our professional communities to agree and publish their principles. You can see them in the Professions section of the Playbook.

Creating these principles has been more valuable and inspiring than we could have hoped.

Drafting, reviewing, using and updating a set of principles has created a space for important conversations within each community. Conversations about what we think is important, about the ways others’ see us and understand us, about how our practice might be different. And most importantly, conversations about how we can live up to our values every day.

In the rest of this post, I’ll talk a bit more about the different things we’ve been doing to create and publish our principles.

Creating some consensus

The sets of principles that the teams drafted at the retreat were all very different.

Some were a short set of pithy bullets, while others were longer with quite detailed guidance. And some were quite generic when compared to others that included lots of profession-specific language.

So the first step for me was to speak to people around dxw. I wanted to understand what they saw as the potential value for the principles, how they related to our values and other guidance, and what format and level of detail might work best.

From there I wrote a post on our internal Bikeshed blog that described the consensus we’d reached.

We agreed that:

We also agreed that:

Reviewing principles together

As the principles were quite different from each other, we decided to review them all together to look for patterns.

We printed all the draft principles on A3 sheets and posted them on the wall for several days, for everyone to see and comment on.

We also booked some specific review time on a Friday afternoon and asked people to comment on how the principles compared with each other, and whether there was anything in the principles that wasn’t clear or they disagreed with.

Like Goldilocks’ experience of beds and porridge, we learned that principles have a length that’s just right – long enough to be clear and understandable, but without detailed guidance. For us, this suggested our Values as a lower limit and our Leadership principles as an upper limit.

We also learned that we needed to work harder to create descriptions that would feel specific and relevant to the members of a professional community, while still being easy for non-specialist colleagues to understand.

Helping teams get their principles done

Some professional communities had drafted their principles, but were struggling to refine and publish them.

For these groups, I’ve run short workshops to help them move forward.

These workshops have 4 parts:

  1. Individuals write words and phrases that they think are important and specific to them in how they do their work.
  2. The community works together to sort the words and phrases into meaningful groups and give each a title.
  3. Where the community has draft principles, we print them, cut them into separate strips and add them to the groups they relate to.
  4. Finally, the community work together to write principle statements for each group, and refine the words and phrases in each one.
An example from the workshop on our Sales and Marketing principles

With the principle statements and associated words and phrases in a shared document, the community can edit them together over a few days to produce the final statements and descriptions.

What next?

A few professions are working on their principles, and I’ll be helping to get those done.

And I’d like to link principles to blog posts that show the principle in action.

We’ve also realised that we need to tighten up and extend our company-wide principles to apply the lessons we learned in creating the principles for each profession. 

But, of course, these principles are all living expression of how we work together. So we’ll encourage communities to continually review and update them as we learn and grow and change.