Updated: Apr 2
Previously on Scaling Start-Ups...
The B.E.S.T. (beliefs, experience, skills and traits) framework gave us a comprehensive approach to define capabilities and use it to hire and build a team of rockstars. In this episode, we will dive into Principles, from the 6 Foundations framework, to find out how to align your team of rockstars to deliver faster against your strategy.
“Joobs, why is it we never hit the mark the first time? It always takes a feedback session and second run before we get it right. How can we change this?” 🤔
This question from a team member of mine stood out for me. It was during the early stages of building our HR function. The team was on a roll developing various cutting-edge initiatives and they wanted to deliver even faster and better.
I took the time to reflect on this. For those of you who know me, I am a predictably consistent person (yes, my team plays the word Bingo every time I say the word “consistency”). I was aware that the feedback and guidance that I gave my team were always the same and it hit me! My team may not be aware of these expectations, especially because we had new team members joining almost every quarter.
Every team member had a different idea of how to work on our HR initiatives and what good looks like based on their past experiences. What we were missing was alignment. This is where principles come in.
Principles vs. values: aren’t they the same?
Most companies have a clear set of values. Do we still need principles? Yes - because values and principles (while they both serve to guide) are not the same.
Values are the DNA of a company. They guide what the company believes is right and what is non-negotiable. While circumstances change, ideally values do not. One company I worked for had the value of ‘always assume positive intent.’ No matter what was said or who we interacted with, every individual in the company was committed to always assuming positive intent and seeking ways to come to an understanding.
Principles, on the other hand, are the philosophy that a team practices and operates under to bring alignment to the delivery of your strategy. Hence, principles may evolve when circumstances change. Here are some examples of principles for different departments:
Engineering: Don’t repeat yourself (for coding)
UX: Use simple language
Product: Focus on data
Principles also provide the reasoning to help the team understand why we do things a certain way and the assumptions we may make along the way. But, most importantly, they enable the team to use the core reasoning as building blocks to solve complex problems, make critical day-to-day decisions or challenge limiting beliefs.
3 examples of principles to bring alignment to your team
Below, I will share 3 examples of principles and what they can achieve. The aim is to give you an idea of how you can apply this to your situation. The principle I applied when writing this article was: use simple examples because the aim of this article is not to solve all the HR problems in the world, but to give you a gist of how it works. See what I did there? 😉
1. Walk in our employees’ shoes
Why? Because we want to treat our employees like consumers and we want a pull vs. push approach to our HR products and services.
For example, my team sends out a biweekly newsletter to keep our employees updated on topics such as new joiners/leavers, reminders of upcoming initiatives or invitations to participate in the design of future initiatives. It would be easy to send a 5-page newsletter ‘pushing out’ information that HR needs to ‘tell’ you. However, applying the principle, the aim is not about us, it is about the employees reading the newsletter. So, how do we ensure we don’t just ‘transmit’ the information, but that it is ‘received’ and lands with our employees?
If we walk in our employees' shoes, we know they are busy, their inbox is likely full of the 3 gazillion newsletters from other departments, vendors, and everything else that they may or may not have signed up to. How do we make sure the newsletter is not only attractive enough for them to read in the first place, but the information lands once they do? To determine our approach, we turn to behavioural psychology and UX.
Readers don't stay focused for long, so we place more important information at the top of the email; meaning readers can see the information they need to without having to scroll.
Readers scan when they read, so we make use of headlines to summarise the essence of what we’re trying to land in one sentence. This way, a quick scan of headlines delivers all the key information and our employees can read the details of a specific section if it is important to them.
2. Touch things only once, never twice
Why? Because we want to be scalable to reduce HR debt especially in repetitive tasks and to free up more time and resources to focus on enabling business growth.
Take an employment contract as an example. How much time does it take HR folks to look for information? Page 3 for job title, page 8 for salary, page 15 for bonus percentage, page 29 for the notice period and so on. By simply moving all variables into a table on the front page, you will never need to search through 67 pages of contract for simple information, ever again. Removing waste lays the foundation for productivity. Remember, even small wins in big volume add up!
3. Always remove biases
Why? Because we want to be inclusive in the HR products and services that we build, how we work with others and how we learn as a team.
I will use the promotion processes as an example here. Many people feel that promotion processes can be biased. How many times have we heard, “I won’t get promoted because my manager does not like me / I am not extroverted / so and so is related to the boss?”
When we launched our first version of the promotion process, we opened up two channels through which people could be put forward for promotion: either nominated by their manager or by leaders who were not their direct managers. We also ensured the decision was made by a committee that didn’t consist of their manager. While this was not the ‘end product’, it was the first step toward removing biases. As the team tested the MVP (minimum viable product), they collected feedback from those experiencing the process to continue to remove bias from the process for the next iteration.
These aren’t the only principles out there - go your own way!
As I mentioned at the top of the article, these are only examples to show you how to approach principle-setting and what they may look like in practice. But this isn’t a copy and paste job - you need to find out what’s fit for your purpose, your business and your unique set of circumstances.
Remember, the principles you set now aren’t set in stone. They may evolve as your strategy, team and business grow. The key here is to work in the realistic bounds of your current state and embrace the change as it comes.
Develop your HR function’s principles
Here is a simple activity you can run to define or update your function’s principles. You can do this on your own (if you’re the one HR person in your company), with a group of people who are invested in the success of the HR function or with your HR team.
With your HR strategy in mind, ask the question: “What should we as a team think or do to bring alignment to the delivery of our strategy i.e. your principles?”
Ask everyone to list their answers on Post-it notes (one Post-it note per principle).
💡 Hint: the principle should be written with a verb, not a stand-alone adjective or noun.
Here's an example:
✔️ Always ask what job the user is trying to do
Once this is completed, ask each individual to stick the Post-it to the wall and explain why they think this principle can bring alignment to the delivery of your team's strategy.
When all Post-it notes are on the wall, group the Post-it notes that have a similar theme together and write a principle that captures the essence of that grouping.
I would recommend having no more than 5 principles. If you have more than 5 at this stage, you can decide on your top 5 using a voting technique such as dot voting (everyone is given a set number of dot votes, and cast their vote by dotting next to the principle they believe will better serve your team to achieve its objective).
And, there you have it: your HR function’s principles! Remember, these principles can evolve when circumstances change, e.g. change in strategy. So, when this occurs, make sure to review your principles to ensure they still serve their purpose: to align the function toward achieving your strategy.
✍ JooBee’s note
The examples in this blog are written for HR folks. However, the concept is applicable to any teams (such as department, project, social) to create alignment and help you achieve your goals cohesively - and faster!
In the next season...
In our season finale, we wrap up on how to reduce HR debt and build a future-proof HR function. In the next season, we will explore how managerial roles evolve at different phases of growth in start-ups.