What a company manifesto means to me and what I would expect it to accomplish

A Manifesto reveals the strengths and values within a company, and does so in a way that decreases the number of complex decision making hurdles for its employees in the day-to-day.

The manifesto will be “the bible” (though only a page) of reasons that lead a team without a need for individual leaders to be present, and can help create the next generation of leaders to form in the same vein.

It relieves people from the stresses and distractions inherent to complex (or seemingly complex) decisions, in the middle of the workday, while fighting in the trenches.Screen Shot 2013-05-14 at 12.22.05 PM

Picture this: A team of army rangers are falling back in the middle of an amazonian battlefield. They realize one of their platoon members went missing while under fire. What do they do? Unorganized soldiers may scatter under this pressure and lose their head. Should the next step be “Every man for themselves!”, or “Let’s hide it out until morning”? Luckily this group of rangers knows that there is one core value that prevails in situations like this: “never leave a soldier behind”. – Boom, decision made. They spend their time devising a plan to find him first and foremost  (no matter the hurdles – it will be resolved).

Values help form a strategy. Most importantly, when things go wrong, values help keep the bigger picture moving tactically. Especially when “fires” make decision making  difficult. Plans fail, but values do not.


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More practically speaking, the battles on a tech company’s floor may be less tragic, but are battles nonetheless. Imagine there is a team developing a widget. It is done so with poor (if any) design, but  is backend-ready and functional. A discussion may come up around the pros and cons of deploying something that doesn’t look good but is ready to ship for testing. The debate could rage on, but, with a core manifesto that decision is already made: if the core value says design is key to our tests – then the decision is made to implement a design before deploying. If the core value says release when ready and iterate – again the decision is already made.

 

Those decisions shape a company and should not change week-to-week, problem-to-problem, or day-by-day from department to department. They shape outcomes and the character of a company through a decision tree that is easy to repeat. Consistent and efficient decision-making is more important than re-assessing the perfect decision for the situation each and every time it comes up. The written word is amazing at facilitating that.

 

Of course, we all have great thoughts and your company has awesome values already, but having them written down is the difference between an interesting legend shared by some and a religion followed by many.

Documentation, although necessary, does not substitute for a short list of values. Documentation is rarely re-read, and often forgotten; we remember “Go when green” not “Statute 32 Section 5: All those that use public road shall obey stop lights based on the following color …..”

Finally, it is extremely important that your list of values are glossed over. One lazy move away from following your values can easily turn into a utter mess over the years. That does not mean you can’t change your values. If a situation comes up, and your values does not represent how you want to act two things MUST happen: 1) You re-examine your values and change them accordingly or 2) You adjust the situation to fit your values. Period.

As for my suggestions regarding the setting for how a document can be built  as a team here are some thoughts.

 

  1. Make sure people feel heard (i.e. right down every idea)
  2. Help filter outlaws that promote restrictions (which end up being things people feel reprimanded for doing)  and turn them into the concept that create direction and productivity to help people grow, expand, and focus. It is a document of supportiveness.
  3. Use it to help give people clarity in situations that need tie breakers, or rules of thumb. For example, “future value does not trump current value” has saved our team from missing out on what we have while over planning for something we do not.
  4. Be clear on what an item suggested means when it is written (often times one person’s perspective on what “awareness” can be, for instance, is different than another’s) Be descriptive.
  5. Find a/the person that matches the essence of what a manifesto item describes. They will most likely be the champion of that thought and help keep it alive and well. Find the passion in the people and you will also find the strength in the doc.

I believe once the fundamental concepts are solidified into the manifesto it becomes a spine for current, and as importantly, new employees that come in so they can quickly latch onto and adopt the companies process/thinking as it expands in size.
There will be the debate over the items presented, and debate is good. As such, it may also be a good idea to nail down some keywords that keep the conversation on track to what we believe the manifesto points should adhere to.

The words I propose are:

  • positive
  • smooth
  • friendly
  • helpful
  • productive

If an item does not instill many of these words, for instance, then the item may be off track.

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