Your company’s guiding principles

 

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Google, Facebook, and Amazon all have sets of guiding principles. It is interesting both to compare them and to explore the idea that your startup should have its own set of guiding principles, or not. I’ve copied each list directly from the company’s web site.

Google

  1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.
  2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.
  3. Fast is better than slow.
  4. Democracy on the web works.
  5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.
  6. You can make money without doing evil.
  7. There’s always more information out there.
  8. The need for information crosses all borders.
  9. You can be serious without a suit.
  10. Great just isn’t good enough.

Facebook

  1. Freedom to Share and Connect
    People should have the freedom to share whatever information they want, in any medium and any format, and have the right to connect online with anyone – any person, organization or service – as long as they both consent to the connection.
  2. Ownership and Control of Information
    People should own their information. They should have the freedom to share it with anyone they want and take it with them anywhere they want, including removing it from the Facebook Service. People should have the freedom to decide with whom they will share their information, and to set privacy controls to protect those choices. Those controls, however, are not capable of limiting how those who have received information may use it, particularly outside the Facebook Service.
  3. Free Flow of Information
    People should have the freedom to access all of the information made available to them by others. People should also have practical tools that make it easy, quick, and efficient to share and access this information.
  4. Fundamental Equality
    Every Person – whether individual, advertiser, developer, organization, or other entity – should have representation and access to distribution and information within the Facebook Service, regardless of the Person’s primary activity. There should be a single set of principles, rights, and responsibilities that should apply to all People using the Facebook Service.
  5. Social Value
    People should have the freedom to build trust and reputation through their identity and connections, and should not have their presence on the Facebook Service removed for reasons other than those described in Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.
  6. Open Platforms and Standards
    People should have programmatic interfaces for sharing and accessing the information available to them. The specifications for these interfaces should be published and made available and accessible to everyone.
  7. Fundamental Service
    People should be able to use Facebook for free to establish a presence, connect with others, and share information with them. Every Person should be able to use the Facebook Service regardless of his or her level of participation or contribution.
  8. Common Welfare
    The rights and responsibilities of Facebook and the People that use it should be described in a Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, which should not be inconsistent with these Principles.
  9. Transparent Process
    Facebook should publicly make available information about its purpose, plans, policies, and operations. Facebook should have a process of notice and comment to provide transparency and encourage input on amendments to these Principles or to the Rights and Responsibilities.
  10. One World
    The Facebook Service should transcend geographic and national boundaries and be available to everyone in the world.

Amazon

Customer Obsession

Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.

Ownership

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job”.

Invent and Simplify

Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here”. As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.

Are Right, A Lot

Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

Learn and Be Curious

Leaders are never done learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.

Hire and Develop the Best

Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.

Insist on the Highest Standards

Leaders have relentlessly high standards – many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

Think Big

Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

Bias for Action

Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.

Frugality

Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size or fixed expense.

Earn Trust

Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

Dive Deep

Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit

Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Deliver Results

Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

The differences amongst these three giants of the Internet are stark. Google’s are brief and somewhat lightweight (You can be serious without a suit.). Facebook’s are focused almost entirely on information (ex Ownership and Control of Information) and are outward facing. Amazon’s are all focused on leaders. Does that imply that Jeff Bezos considers every employee at Amazon a leader? Or that everyone at Amazon should act like a leader? One of the dictums I was taught about startups early on was that “everyone should act like an owner.” And by issuing options to everyone in the company from the receptionist (yes we had those positions in days of yesteryear) to VPs and Directors everyone in my companies was an owner.
Interestingly enough though failure is extolled and failing fast is seen as a guiding principles of high tech companies, none of the big three incorporate this concept into their guiding principles. Should it be one of yours?
Obviously With Google and Facebook each having 10 guiding principles and Amazon eschewing numbers, but I count 14, I doubt the founders and leaders assume everyone in the company can recite them all at will. So what are the reasons to create a list of principles?
  1. Alignment. For a startup to be successful its founders must be aligned. I can think of no better exercise to generate alignment – or if necessary flush out founders who aren’t aligned – than developing a set of guiding principles.
  2. Employee orientation. One of my guiding principles and I believe one that’s been mentioned by Mark Zuckerberg lately, is that everyone wants to be and benefits from being part of something larger than themselves. For some it’s a religion. But for those in a startup it’s the company. I can think of no better way to orient new employees than to walk them through the company’s guiding principles.
  3. Decision making. As I’ve written elsewhere, startups are decision machines. At no time in your career will you ever make as many decisions as you will in a startup. And what distinguishes decisions in a startup from those in a mature company is that often those decisions have to be made with less than complete information. So when it comes down to making tough and even contentious decisions, there’s no better referee than the company’s guiding principles.

So my advice to entrepreneurs is two fold: one, study the guiding principles of the companies you admire – there is no shame in borrowing guiding principles from them. And two, as soon as you have a team, get them off site and develop your company’s own set of guiding principles.

If I had to choose amongst the three lists I would choose Amazon’s, as I see it’s guiding principles as focused inwards on the company and how everyone behaves towards customers, partners, and each other. Company culture is the invisible hand of management. While company culture has to be built over time by behavior, not words, I can’t think of a better way to start building your company culture and aligning your team than creating your own set of guiding principles. And I’d also suggest that you revisit this list at least yearly and make any necessary changes, as companies can and do change with the times.

So my first guiding principle is to have a set of guiding principles!

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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