We’ve recently implemented an intra-team program to reinforce our company’s four core values: Communication, Commitment to Excellence, Service, and Relationships.
The concept came from the book “Fundamentally Different” by David Friedman and has helped us break down each value into action statements tied to a specific behavior. The behaviors are called “Fundamentals.” For example, our core value “Commitment to Excellence” entails the Fundamentals “don’t cut corners” and “practice fanatical attention to detail.”
Each week, one team member is assigned a Fundamental associated with our core values and tasked with instilling it across our organization. They share what the Fundamental means to them, how it impacts their work and life, and ways team members can embrace and hone the Fundamental. Once we’ve exhausted the Fundamentals for a core value, we move on to the next value and its Fundamentals.
We incorporate the weekly Fundamentals into our correspondence, our meetings, and our private Facebook group. You may have seen my social media posts featuring a Fundamental weekly. On Sundays, the person who owns the featured Fundamental kicks off the week with an email to the team to get them thinking about how to incorporate it into their daily routine. We just finished the second round of addressing the four Fundamentals related to our core value, “Communication.”
- Remove barriers that create excuses.
- Meet deadlines.
- Proactively communicate the status of deliverables.
- Do what you say you will do.
Below, I’ve shared some insights and tips from my team’s Sunday Fundamentals emails. Note that I’ve removed our personal stories for privacy reasons. However, know that they were very effective in helping individuals relate to the Fundamentals.
Four Fundamentals of Communication
Fundamental #1: Remove barriers that create excuses
We face the unexpected constantly. In his book, “Essentialism,” author Greg McKeown dedicates an entire chapter to this topic. We chronically underestimate how long projects or tasks will take. That puts us in reactive mode and results inevitably suffer.
To combat this problem, McKeown recommends two basic but powerful tactics.
- Use extreme preparation.
- Add 50 percent to your time estimate on projects.
Things happen, especially in this business, so it’s crucial to allow yourself enough time to get everything done. Consider not only what you have already scheduled — but also leave enough buffer time for unanticipated things that pop up. Work ahead on assignments that have flexible timelines so that you can be prepared for the unexpected. Preparation eliminates obstacles proactively and prevents rushing your work which can lead to mistakes — and excuses!
What plan will you make to ensure you free yourself of tomorrow’s excuses?
Fundamental #2: Meet deadlines
Meeting deadlines sounds simple enough; you get an assignment and complete it by a specific date or time. Yet, many people struggle with this, and I think that’s because they procrastinate and fail to prioritize responsibilities.
In "Fundamentally Different," Friedman reminds us that being punctual is a sign of courtesy and respect for the people you work with. This reminds me of one of my favorite TED Talks by Tim Urban, Inside the mind of a master procrastinator. In the presentation, Urban identifies ways our minds lead us down a giant rabbit hole and explains why we wait until the last minute to get things done.
Here are a few tips that help me adhere to deadlines and show up on time.
- Prioritize. Most of us work on many tasks simultaneously. Sometimes, even though we have set aside time to get a project done, something else pops up that distracts us. When that happens, we must assess the situation and evaluate if that email or call can be put off until later.
- Break down the project into stages. I like to break down my projects into checkpoints to make them less overwhelming. On my Trello board, I’ve added the custom fields add-on that allows me to create dropdown lists and checkboxes on my cards to keep tabs on projects’ progress.
- Create time blocks and remove distractions. I find it helpful to set aside periods exclusively for work. Do you have a big project on Thursday? Start early in the morning while things are still quiet and fewer distractions will disrupt your concentration.
- Ask for help. Let other team members know when you are struggling. That can help remove the roadblocks that stand in your way and prevent missed deadlines.
- Reward yourself! You’ve earned it! After finishing projects successfully and on time, I like to reward myself with a barbeque and a particular cold drink in my hand.
Bottom line: Do your work on time, feel your stress melt away, and enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Fundamental #3: Proactively communicate the status of deliverables
Life gets in the way, and unexpected things happen. Projects don’t always go exactly as planned, and we sometimes drop the ball. While meeting deadlines is critical, how you handle falling behind schedule is equally important.
Recognizing that a deliverable or project won’t get accomplished on time can be scary. You may feel tempted to shut down, disconnect, and avoid talking about it. As hard as it may be to own up to it, that’s the only way to make sure you create an action plan that ensures no one else’s workflow gets derailed.
Another tip for incorporating this Fundamental is finding (and telling others) what form of communication works best for you. For example, I’m easiest to reach via text (maybe that’s just the Gen Z in me). But if email is your preferred channel, then let others know.
You can benefit from this Fundamental every day, not just when things go awry. Proactively communicating about deliverables will help others prioritize their work and stay on track.
Fundamental #4: Do what you say you will do
Whether biting off more than you can chew or putting tasks on the backburner, it’s easy to let this Fundamental slip.
Here are a few ways I work to do what I say I will do...
- Before accepting a project, I determine if it’s something I feel confident I can accomplish. I consider both my skill set and whether I can commit to the timeframe requested. Avoid the desire to take on work because you think you’ll look good by taking the initiative. Be realistic about what you can accomplish!
- I evaluate my current project commitments and then assess if I have the capacity to take on new work. If an overloaded schedule has you swamped, you will overlook things and make mistakes. I suggest investing in a day planner to schedule your tasks for the days and weeks ahead. In my experience, organizing tasks and seeing them laid out on a calendar helps clarify if you can fulfill a project in the allotted time. It’s OK to say “no” to additional work if you can’t complete it properly.
- For complex projects, I determine if I can fulfill the entire scope of what they will entail. For special jobs with many moving parts (like some of my video work), I refer to my clients’ emails to check off individual components of the projects as I complete them. Scope creep — and subsequent delays — can occur if you’re not entirely clear on all aspects of a project upfront.
Remember: You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.
The Foundation for Fundamentals: Core Values
If you don’t have core values for your organization, I strongly recommend contacting leadership coach Chad Harvey to get started! And if you do have core values, I encourage you to use my Fundamentals exercise with your team! It has advanced our team performance and enhanced our service to our customers.