I recently joined Simple as the CTO. Inspired by Doug Conant, I communicated my values and expectations with everyone in the team and organisation very clearly, and this has had a big positive impact on my relationship with my colleagues.

Before I started

Before I started, I sent an email to the CEO and the technology leadership team to discuss what I stand for. After highlighting my pledge and expectations (more about this further down), the email ended with:

I will communicate these with the entire team on my first day at Simple. If you have concerns about any of these please let me know and we can discuss them; otherwise I expect full support from you to deliver on these.

Thanks

The response I got from everyone was quite positive. So I arranged a meeting with all head office staff at 9:30AM on my first day.

First Day

This is the gist of what I discussed with everyone on the first day (omitted the personal introduction for brevity).

I am here on a mission. My mission is to build a world class software team that defies any challenge and creates products that customers love.

To succeed in this mission, I make a pledge to you and have a few expectations from you.

My pledge:

  • I respect each and everyone of you.
  • I act with integrity. Every word coming out of my mouth is a promise and a commitment that you can hold me accountable for. If I fail to deliver on my commitment, I will openly acknowledge it.
  • I provide full transparency around circumstances, plans and decisions as well as organisation’s expectations of you.
  • I learn about your career goals and aspirations and will help you grow and realise them.
  • I collaborate with you to create an environment that is conducive of excellent outcomes and I will recognise and reward excellence.

And team leads share this pledge.

Any questions?

My expectations:

  • You respect everyone.
  • You act with integrity: you do what you say you do and I will hold you accountable for it.
  • You provide full transparency: you are accountable for your actions and own and communicate the results.
  • You have high level of sustainable productivity and quality. This is not a place for mediocrity. To be part of a world class team, you have to show world class performance.
  • You value collaboration over individual goals. It doesn’t matter how good you are if you are not willing to collaborate. High performing individuals are great. What’s greater is high performing teams and what’s even greater is a high performing company.
  • We only make new mistakes. We forgive any mistake the first time around, but we also immediately learn about and address the root cause so it won’t happen again.

And team leads share these expectations.

Any questions?

Please think about these in the next few days. It’s ok if you don’t agree with these; but you need to raise and discuss it with me. So if you have any questions, comments, concerns or objections, please come to me and let’s discuss them in person. If I don’t hear anything from you by the end of week, I will take that as a commitment from you.

I then documented this on the company wiki and sent an email to everyone thanking them for their time and sharing the pledge link with them. We held another meeting the week after to discuss any questions or concerns.

Key Takeaways

  • Think about what you stand for and expect before communicating it to anyone. I thought about my values for over a week and while a lot of things came to mind, I decided to keep the list very short so it’s easy to remember.
  • Think about the end goal and communicate that as well. I set a mission for myself, to build a world class software team that defies any challenge and creates products that customers love, and I communicated that with everyone, so you are all aligned and headed towards the same end goal.
  • Get buy-in from the CEO (or your immediate manager) and the rest of the leadership team before communicating this widely. It doesn’t matter what you stand for if you values are not aligned with the CEO’s. Likewise, if you don’t work with everyone directly, it’s critical that other leaders share these values and expectations; otherwise you could fail to deliver on your pledge or engender your expectations because a leader is misaligned.
  • Communicate your values and expectations early and clearly up, down and sideways.

Last but not least, you can’t be selective about when to deliver on your promises and stand for your expectation. Communicating values you can’t live up to and stand for consistently is much worse than not communicating them at all. I have pledged that “every word coming out of my mouth is a promise and a commitment”, and that applies to my pledge and expectations. This is not very easy to live up to; but I strongly believe that nothing works without integrity. So I honor my word and stay true to my values, no matter how difficult it might be.