Four Steps to

Creating Guiding Principles

That enable a high-performance workplace

Have you read the first part of this article? You may like to look at the overview of the importance of developing guiding principles before jumping into these four steps to develop principles.

Step 1. Articulate the Values

To create your guiding principles, you must have already identified your top 3-5 core values.

These are the values  you believe will drive the behaviors needed to achieve the outcomes of the business. Click here for tips on developing team values.

Please don't just develop the values and then leave them on the wall. You must use them to guide every decision, and to lead and engage your people. If you leave them on the walls, you'll create cynicism and under-performance. 

Step 2. Identify the Irrational Rules, Policies, Procedures

Work with your front-line team members to identify the policies, rules, and procedures in your workplace, which either

  • negatively impact morale or
  • are unnecessary obstacles, getting in the way of your product or service being delivered to your customer cheaper, quicker and of higher quality

Toss out those that are irrational and don't support the business to achieve its goals. Click here for examples of poor decisions due to irrational policies.

Step 3. Develop the Guiding Principles

As you develop your guiding principles keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Your guiding principles stem from your Values
  • Involve team members in developing the principles
  • The principles need to be consistent with the Vision
  • Your principles must be consistent with the experience your organization wants to deliver to its customers
  • Ensure the principle doesn't outline the exact "how to do", but does emphasize what is essential to the business

For each Value create a guiding principle that completes the statement: "People will be ...(insert value)... when they". Here are a couple of examples:

Value = Flexibility


People will be flexible when they:

  • Work within a structure that encourages and supports multi-skilling
  • Are guided by principles rather than driven by rules
  • Know and understand customer needs
  • Involved in decision-making that impacts on them
  • Are involved in planning and organizing change
  • Understand and appreciate the reason for change

Value = Technical Competency


People are technically competent when they:

  • Use their training with accuracy, care and attention to detail
  • Learn and implement skills
  • Participate in multi-skilling
  • Are empowered to take decisions in technical areas
  • Are highly trained and kept informed on technical developments

Step 4. Apply the Principles


One of my favorite exercises with groups, is to ask them for examples of how they've used the organization's values while making decisions in the past week.


95% of the time, most groups have difficulty stating their values and, certainly didn't consciously use them to make decisions!


Placing Values/Principles in cards and handbooks do not bring them to life!


Your principles and values must align behavior and drive performance. 


To make them real, leaders must:

  • talk about them
  • explain them
  • defend them constantly, publicly, and consistently

 If they can't they should either change the principles or leave the organization.

Many organizations spend (probably better said, waste) a lot of time developing their principles and/or values. Maybe even having them printed up and placed in cards and handbooks. And, that is often as far as it goes.

All it does is breed cynicism and discontent. You know this to be true - you probably work in one of those organizations!


Example of bringing Values to life

Leaders communicate their commitment to the organizational values and principles more by their actions than their words.


For example, at a company I worked in, Teamwork and Flexibility were two of our values.


One time we had a massive fire in this manufacturing facility - which made detergent powder.  


For the next fortnight every single person in the facility was involved in the cleaning and sweeping up of the mess, so we could get back to operation. From the Site Manager, to the Receptionist, to the production team members.


Does that mean the Site Manager and Receptionist, should be at the end of a broom all the time? Of course not.


However, when the opportunity arises, you must live the values. 


Principle-Centered, High-Performance Leaders consistently

use these three questions in their decision-making process:

  • 1
    "Is this decision aligned with our principles and values?"
  • 2
    "How will this decision affect our business over the next 3, 5, 10 years?"
  • 3
    "What is the possible impact it could have on how our people behave and feel?"

Use the questions above, as you make similar type decisions in your business, to give yourself a much better chance of making design choices, that will lead to the long-term health and agility of your business.

Related Articles

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Part 1 of this article

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