Gradient’s Principles

When I started Gradient I knew that eventually, I wanted it to be a principle-driven company. What does that mean, and why is it important? Well — here’s what I wrote our team (on July 29th):

Guys: one more thing. One thing that I have started to think about, and would like both of you to think about, is what principles should we develop to drive our company. I would like Gradient to be a principle-driven company. Why not a customer-driven, or technology-driven, or profit-driven company? Well of course we should always serve our customers, use the latest technologies, and make money. But customers change (and can sometimes turn on you), and technology and profit are means, not ends. Principles don’t change – they won’t reneg on a contract, they won’t turn on you, etc.

Having a core set of principles will help guide our behavior, especially in difficult circumstances. What happens when a customer doesn’t like our analysis? What happens when a customer renegs on a contract? How should we behave?

When we hire new people, what should we be looking for, other than technical competency? When we have a difficult decision, what should we be considering, other than our respective opinions?

This may seem fluffy, but at the best companies it’s anything but. Specifically, I’m thinking about Amazon, whose twelve leadership principles are used all the time in the regular course of business there.

So I’d like everyone to start thinking about what they’d like to see in our set of principles, and when it’s right, get them down on paper. There’s no timeline to this (yet), as this is not a case where done is better than perfect.

At the end of the day, they have to do at least these four things:

  • reflect our personal values
  • be effective guides to decision making and action
  • serve as an effective rubric for character inside our company
  • be useful – they can’t just live on a shelf somewhere

I’m happy to say that just over a month later — after a collective process where the three of us came together, pooled our thoughts, and worked collectively to draft the same document — we’ve landed on the following eleven principles. I’m immensely proud of them, and can’t wait to use them all the time in day-to-day discussions. While some of them are especially important given our remote set-up, they all feel mostly timeless to me. Have a read and let me know what you think.

Gradient leaders… (and we’re all leaders)

  • Are honest and integral to a fault: if we say something will be done, then it will be done. We conform our words to reality (honesty) and reality to our words (integrity).
  • Do more with less: We are frugal and look for ways to avoid spending time and money when it is not needed.
  • Think win-win: Success is not zero-sum. Our clients, partners, and vendors’ success is our success. We build credible, reliable, and honest relationships with every client, partner, and ally.
  • Prove themselves wrong: We seek diverse perspectives, look for alternative hypotheses, investigate the details, and stress-test our analyses to ensure that we are right. We never assume we are right.
  • Are obsessed with constant improvement: Individually, we are always looking to learn new techniques and develop valuable skills sets. We proactively seek feedback to improve our collective performance.
  • Collaborate and communicate extremely well: We value team contribution over individual contribution. We are excellent team players that go the extra mile to make it easy to work with others.
  • Deliver results, not work: We don’t value work, we value results. We are always moving toward delivering value to our clients.
  • Take care of each other: We care for each other’s well-being and celebrate alternative perspectives.
  • Self-Manage: We take ownership of our work by prioritizing and organizing effectively with our colleagues while acting on behalf of the entire company.
  • Investigate deeply: We are never satisfied with the first layer of understanding, or fixing symptoms instead of underlying causes. We fix problems so they stay fixed.
  • Are ambitious risk takers: We push the definition of normal by moving fast and pursuing new, unconventional solutions.