My 3-year-old is following in his 7-year-old brother’s footsteps and taking an intense interest in Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer. After a couple years of not having to listen to the theme song ad nauseum, we’re back into the thick of things.
For those who are not familiar with the show, Dora frequently goes on adventures and isn’t certain which way to go. In those situation, she calls upon her trusty map, which shows her the way.
If only we were all so well prepared.
In business and in life, we all need a map. Too often, we move without thinking or jump in without looking. We buy into the paradigm that says we ought to fail fast, but we don’t bother to ask, “Fail at what?” Failing for the sake of failing isn’t the path to enlightenment, it’s just stupid. Even if you’re prepared to accept failure – that failure needs to be leading in the direction of some intended destination, meandering as the path may be. Otherwise, the exercise never ends and nothing is ever learned. It’s just activity for the sake of activity.
Activity without planning at any level is just folly and entirely wasteful. Planning is the result of consulting the map – we can see the current location, the destination, and the obstacles in between. Without a destination in mind, and a plan for getting from here to there, all that results is misalignment of goals, fits and starts, lost momentum and, quite frequently, situations where people are more than happy to clear an entire forest just to deliver a toothpick. The purpose, after all, was to show activity over and above the value of delivering the end product.
The guiding principles of an organization are what the people working within that organization turn to when they don’t know the way to go. Those principles align people and, even if there is no certain way to go, will at least tell you which way you should not go. In effect, they become your map. They let you know where the terrain is flat and clear, or rocky and overgrown, and allows you to see all the other route options to help you adjust course and still reach your destination.
Any organization, regardless of size or complexity, needs to have guiding principles (see the Shingo Model for more elaboration on the impact of guiding principles). When all else fails, adhering to these principles will offer assurance that people are still operating within the spirit of your organization.