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© 2024 N. Dean Meyer and Associates Inc.
Excerpt from www.NDMA.COM, © 2024 N. Dean Meyer and Associates Inc.

Examples: Behavior-based Cultural Principles

a sampling of actionable behavioral principles from our best-practices database on corporate culture, including ethics, integrity, teamwork, entrepreneurship

Cultural principles (behaviors) can be crafted in any or all of the following themes:
[click any Theme to see examples of behavioral principles]

Ethics (right versus wrong)

  • We do not permit personal conflicts of interests.

    • We do not personally materially profit directly from our business activities, i.e., from doing our jobs or from things we're asked to do because of our position in the organization (eg, taking significant gifts from vendors or honoraria; preferring vendors owned by employees).
      (The only exception is where external payments, such as honoraria, are an agreed part of our compensation and employment agreements.)

      • We only accept gifts that are of nominal value: gifts of nominal value given at holidays or on special occasions (such as birthdays); meals at business meetings which are not extravagant; occasional tickets to entertainment events; promotional materials of nominal value; achievement awards; prizes which are generally available to the public; frequent-flier miles.

      • We do not accept gifts or honoraria of any kind if they are contingent on a business decision ("buying favors").

      • We do not allow any personal profits (eg, gifts, honoraria) gained from our position to affect our business judgments or cause us to give preferential treatment.

      • We do not use any of the organization's resources (including its information and our on-the-job time) with the intent of personal gain.

    • We do not allow our outside business interests to create potential conflicts of interests....

Integrity (inspiring trust)

  • We communicate only what we know, and don't pretend to know things which we don't.

    • We do not speak for others without their permission (i.e., "we don't put words in their mouths").

    • We do not act or represent ourselves as having rights beyond our authority.

    • We give others appropriate credit for their work, and don't take credit for others' contributions.

    • We do not represent opinions, theories, speculation, or rumors as fact.

  • We meet all our commitments.

    • We fully understand proposed deliverables before committing to them.

    • We don't make commitments we cannot meet. When someone requests (or demands) something we cannot do, we explain that we cannot do it and offer feasible options rather than say yes and then fail. A "graceful no" includes the following steps:....

Interpersonal Relations (how we work with others)

  • We share our information, knowledge, and views in a constructive manner.

    • We are straightforward and directly say what we mean (rather than using sarcasm, innuendo, or negative non-verbal signals). (Humor and good-natured teasing are acceptable, as long as they are not offensive.)

    • We adapt our communications style to our audience in the spirit of meeting people half way, making every effort to be understood.

    • We choose a medium and forum appropriate to the nature of the discussion. E.g., we communicate in person when collaboration requires rapid interactions or the expression of feelings; we communicate asynchronously (eg, electronic mail) to exchange facts or when rapid interaction is not required.

    • We adapt our communications style to the medium, eg, by explicitly communicating tone in written media (such as smiling faces within email).

    • We propose ideas, and then openly discuss pros and cons without adamantly defending them, in the spirit of "truth-seeking."

    • We respect others' time and don't communicate information without good reason (eg, excessive copy lists on email).

    • We offer criticism to others in private to constructively help them improve, but we do not criticize others in public or behind their backs (no bad-mouthing or backstabbing).
      (Backstabbing is portraying others in a bad light, or making negative judgments. It is not backstabbing to describe facts, express your emotions (eg, frustration), or seek advice on how to handle a problem with another person.)

  • When we disagree:....

Meetings (scheduled business events)

  • We all ensure that our meetings are well managed and effective by contributing to the meeting process as well as content.

    • We make observations about the process (eg, miscommunications, lack of closure, deviations from the agenda) whenever we have concerns about how things are going.

    • We summarize where we are and what we have yet to do.

    • We suggest discussion methods (eg, the sequence of topics or group processes).

    • We call for a decision as soon as further discussion seems unproductive.

    • When a topic is not yet resolved and a new topic is raised, we consciously "park" one issue until the other is brought to closure or postponed (rather than talking about two issues at once, or letting one go unresolved).

    • When more ideas are needed:....

Cooperation (one organization)

  • We encourage clients to utilize the products and services of our peers throughout the organization.

  • We freely pass leads, referrals, and other valuable information to our peers.

    • We inform peers throughout the organization of our potential contracts so they can anticipate future follow-on business (eg, life-cycle support services).

    • When passing a lead, we make sure that both the customer and the right provider are aware of their need to talk (no "run-arounds").

    • When someone passes a lead to us, we inform them of the initial steps we have taken.

  • Once the appropriate stakeholders make a decision, we all support their decision (even if we don't agree with it) through attitudes, communications, and actions.

Teamwork (project teams)

  • We buy services (that are not within our own domain) from others within the organization in two situations:

    • We subcontract with others whenever it would be helpful to us; i.e., whenever they can do the work better than us, and hence improve the value of our products.

    • Even if we don't feel the need for help, we buy from others whenever doing the work ourselves might jeopardize others' ability to conduct their business in the future (not just shrink their business, but impede their ability to do business with others).

  • When contracting with customers, we commit only our own groups. We don't make commitments for other groups.

    • If subcontracts are required, we gain the agreement of our suppliers before the contract with our customer is finalized.

    • We determine only our own prices and time-frames. If subcontracts are required, we ask our suppliers to determine their prices and time-frames before we finalize our price and time-frame.

  • We meet all commitments to people within the organization, just as we do commitments to clients. (We do not fail at an internal commitment in order to accept a new client contract. Thus, we can trust each other and are just as comfortable subcontracting to each other as doing the work ourselves.)

Empowerment (matching authority to accountability)

  • When we ask things of others (whether new commitments or changes to existing commitments):

    • We ask people for and measure deliverables (results), not tasks, processes, and effort.

      • We base the magnitude and complexity of the deliverable on the degree of confidence people have earned. I.e., if we lack confidence in people's ability to do big projects, we empower them in smaller chunks rather than micro-manage them.

      • We define the results we measure broadly, to include not only the intended outcomes but also unintended consequences (i.e., "leaving dead bodies in your path" is another form of result).

      • We clearly define in advance any constraints that limit how the work is to be done.

      • To the extent that we constrain how the work is to be done (methods, processes, tools), we accept shared accountability for results.

    • We provide the resources, authorities, and information needed to deliver the agreed results.

      • We negotiate fairly to be sure they willingly agree to the terms; we don't coerce them into accepting impossible assignments. (This isn't meant to constrain a supervisor's ability to make work assignments; it says that supervisors don't use their positional power to force subordinates to accept accountability without authority. If an employee doesn't agree to a reasonable assignment, it should be treated as a performance problem, not as a reason to disempower and set the employee up to fail.)

    • We offer support and coaching (mentoring) without dictating tasks or overriding decisions (which would imply reassuming accountability)
    • When we do so, we make it absolutely clear that our advice is not a command.

Customer Focus (how to treat customers)

  • We serve our customers; we do not control them.

    • We do not presume to know our customers' businesses better than they do. We do not do what we think is "best for the company" or "best for our customer's customers" (second guessing our customers); we help our customers succeed with their missions as they perceive them by serving their expressed needs.

    • We tailor our products to meet the unique needs of our customers, not presuming that "one size fits all." To do so, we make every effort to understand what customers need and value.

    • We offer customers alternatives representing various levels of functionality and price points (eg, Chevrolet, Cadillac, and Rolls-Royce) for a given requirement, and give our customers the choice.

    • We do not preempt our customers' right to decide precisely what they buy, or what they do with the products they own.

    • We help our customers make wise purchase decisions by providing them with an understanding of everything they need to know from us to decide, including at least the following for each proposed alternative:....

    • We help customers choose among our alternatives by facilitating their understanding of which alternative best matches their values; but we do not make recommendations based on our values or on our presumed understanding of their values.

Entrepreneurship (remaining competitive)

  • We continually improve our value to customers.

    • We continually improve existing products.

    • We continually improve the way we do business (including these cultural principles) to improve our efficiency and quality.

    • We proactively invest in our capabilities (including our professional competence and infrastructure) to keep our products current.

    • We proactively seek new opportunities to better serve our customers, and we invest in our ability to offer new products within our domains.

    • We are frugal, and spend the organization's resources only on wise investments (when returns justify costs and risks).

    • We treat time as worth money.

      • We make the best use of every minute of our time on the job (work hard, play hard, rest well).

      • We act as soon as possible, not as late as possible, with a sense of urgency.

    • We leverage our physical and intellectual assets by reusing rather than reinventing whenever possible; we do not resist ideas that were "not invented here."

    • We preserve our intellectual assets by documenting what we learn (our organizational handbook).

    • We choose the most economic means to deliver our products, whether it's "buy" or "build." (Buying instead of building not only may reduce cost and risk, but also conserves scarce fixed resources for high-leverage tasks that only insiders can do.)

Contracts (making commitments)

  • We form clear contracts with our customers and suppliers before we begin projects or deliver services. Contracts define mutual accountabilities; they are not bureaucratic hurdles or legalistic protections.

    • Contracts clearly specify the customer and the supplier. They may be between a group and a client (or consortium of clients), or between groups within the organization (for example, as "subcontracts").

    • No contract is needed if no customer purchase decision is involved. In these situations, customers are not concerned about the organization's commitments and accountabilities. In general, these are products and tasks that benefit the provider more than the customer. Work which does not require a contract includes:....

    • Contracts are formed whether or not money changes hands. (Contracts are necessary when the design of the internal economy includes chargebacks, to make client control over their budgets meaningful. However, contracts are not in any way dependent on chargebacks; they are of great value no matter what the design of the internal economy may be.)

  • We form a separate contract for each distinct customer purchase decision (eg, a feasibility study, a solution, a specific repair, a service-level agreement for help-desk support).

    • For commonly sold products, a "standard" contract may provide a template with commonly used terms and conditions. Nonetheless, an agreement by both parties is still required for each customer decision.

    • We contract for the delivery of a service for a specified period of time (i.e., "service-level agreements"), as distinct from contracts for each use, only when the customer makes a single purchase decision that covers repeated instances of a deliverable. At the end of the time period, the contract is renegotiated.

Quality (how we fulfill commitments)

  • We help customers define what level of service or features (price point) they wish to buy. Since customers may vary in their willingness to pay for perfection and functionality, quality does not always mean doing things perfectly; rather, it means that we produce contracted deliverables within the agreed budget and time with professional excellence.

  • We ensure the quality (professional excellence, not price point) of our own work. We do not depend on peers inspecting our work (as quality assurance "police") or making up for our lack of quality (even if external parties mandate inspection). (Note that the voluntary use of testing services is not abdicating accountability for the quality of our work. "No police" does not mean no supervision; a supervisor has the legitimate authority to manage and control the staff under him or her, and the responsibility for quality remains within the group.)

  • We produce high-quality products, where "quality" is a measure of the goodness of design and delivery within customers' requirements (professional excellence), not price point (level of service or functionality). (There are two points in time when this section applies: for commodity products, design occurs when products are put on the shelf; for bespoke products, design occurs only when a customer chooses to buy.).

    • We design products to perform well in their intended use, including maximizing the efficiency and safety of our products, to the extent that it doesn't add costs or time (based on excellence in design, not higher price point).

    • We maximize the life-cycle cost effectiveness of our products, to the extent that it doesn't add costs or time (based on excellence in design, not higher price point), by designing products which are easy to:....

    • When trade-offs are required among the above quality objectives, we make judgments based on customers' values, and ask for their explicit input on their values (not necessarily on the technical decision).

    • We proactively include, in the scope of every project, correcting any damage to existing assets caused by the sale of our products (chase the ripples).

    • In addition to all agreed [contracted] deliverables, we proactively include all the qualities [attributes] (not functions, features, or performance levels) that must be present to make the intended uses of our products. (For example, cars come with air in the tires; batteries and cables are included if needed.)

    • Whenever possible, we design products to facilitate integration in the future (without sacrificing the ability to tailor functionality to customers' unique needs), eg, by using common components and standards.

Risk (who takes risks, how they're evaluated)

  • We make informed decisions about risks, and do not shy away from taking judicious risks where the possibility of the potential benefits outweighs the possibility of the potential losses (i.e., positive expected value adjusted for risk profile).

    • When making investment decisions, we evaluate all future outcomes (costs and benefits), but ignore past investments. (I.e., sunk costs are irrelevant.)

  • To constrain risks, we prefer short projects over long projects by offering deliverables in modules that are each of value in themselves. (Ideally, projects should be sized so as to be completed in six months or less.)

  • We identify risks at the beginning of a project, and plan to mitigate both the odds of failures and the consequences of failures (risk planning).

  • We evaluate people's decisions, not the outcomes. When people take judicious risks and do everything in their power to succeed, yet fail due to factors beyond their control (i.e., when good decisions result in bad outcomes), we do not treat the lack of results as a performance deficiency. (Of course, we don't reward a lack of results.)

Feedback (measuring results, consequences)

  • We encourage people at all levels to share with us advice and criticism about us.

    • We receive feedback without defensiveness or retribution. (I.e., we treat criticism as an opportunity for learning.)

    • We openly acknowledge and learn from our failures.

  • We provide feedback to one another (including to peers, subordinates, and supervisors) in a timely, constructive manner. (We respect the chain of command and formal grievance processes where applicable.)

    • We assess others' fairly and objectively.

    • We evaluate performance on commitments, not on meeting demands to which they haven't committed.

    • We don't let a single failure overshadow successes; i.e., let one failure affect the assessment of performance at other deliverables. (No "branding.")

    • We present negative feedback in a forum and style that is constructive and does not embarrass the recipient.

    • We communicate feedback or criticism in a kind manner to transfer information effectively, not to demean or vent (even via remote media such as email, i.e., no "flames").

    • After repeatedly providing feedback to an individual with no effect, we may escalate by providing feedback to the individual's supervisor.


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