Operating principles should mean something at a practical level. They can guide daily work, meetings, retros, and an organization’s growth.
I aspire to coach, model, enable, facilitate and improve six operating principles. I want them to be relatable, and ideally aspirational, for everyone on teams that I lead.
The first two principles look inward: own your work and focus.
Own your work. Actively take responsibility for the success of your projects. Make sure you are clear on the business reason for your work from the start, and work to make that value delivered. Find personal meaning in your work and your roles, and if you don’t, do something different. Owning your work doesn’t mean silos or isolated heroes: work together, be humble, and ask advice. It does mean that we should give each other the structure, clear expectations, autonomy, and leadership to work together and deliver unexpectedly awesome solutions.
Focus. Focus and align on goals: the organization’s, your team’s, and your own. Optimize for flow state, and help others find it. Focus on meetings, when they happen. Be mindful of interrupts, both giving and receiving — but if you need to handle an interrupt, focus on it! In general, if you’re not able to focus on your work, it’s a problem for us all to solve together.
The next two principles look outward: communicate and empathize.
Strive to communicate excellently. If we can’t work and coordinate together, the company can’t usefully scale beyond a single person. Moreover, a remote-reliant culture means that communications need special care and energy. Respect the need for meetings and written communications, invest in them, and help to constantly improve them.
Empathize to build respect and trust. Listen deeply so that you gain an understanding of someone else’s perspective. Life is complex enough that the toughest problems usually have multiple perspectives, and multiple valid solutions. Grow psychological safety in your team and in the company using empathy and respect, especially when resolving conflicts.
The last two principles look ahead: integrate and evolve.
Integrate. Grow with a holistic view of the company, your team, your job, and your life. Integrate product, design, engineering, marketing, support, and leadership into your work. Bring your full self to your job, and let your morals, principles and aspirations live within and inform what you do — act with integrity! Finally, integrate together the known and the unknown, the routine and the experimental, to grow, so that you and your organization can…
Evolve! Products, processes, organizations, and individuals can all evolve, and improve continuously. A fast feedback loop is the fundamental mechanism. It is fed by curiosity, learning, and experiments. It requires a bias for action, tempered with explicit pauses for thoughtful reflection and planning. It means constant change, albeit often self-driven. It means being self-aware, and bravely facing and reflecting on your weaknesses, mistakes, and pain. It implies a deep and driving ambition to grow to excellence, personally and organizationally. It is supported throughout by trust. Fear is the enemy.
These six operating principles — own your work, focus, communicate, empathize, integrate, and evolve —are each valuable to me in isolation, but even more meaningful when I try to integrate them into a whole. I find that they support and challenge one another in the active tension and release of life. They are verbs, not nouns, because they encourage us to constantly act: helping ourselves, each other, and our organizations to flourish together.