From baked beans to iTunes: the why, how and who of establishing company principles

Remember that friend from university who moved in with you and became the nightmare flatmate? Never did the hoovering? Left pans encrusted with baked beans all over the kitchen? Didn’t notice when you went on bin strike for two months?

Maybe that was just me. But we’ve all experienced a similar mismatch of standards and values with another person in our personal or professional lives.


It is crucial to establish the key principles we wish to live and work by. These define what we believe is important and give impetus and purpose to our decisions and choices.

A common mistake is to assume that our own standards and expectations are shared by others we come across. All too often, we only realise there is a difference in values after someone has acted in a way we find inappropriate.

I thought I had no reason to believe my flatmate wouldn’t share what I considered to be basic standards of cleanliness and courtesy to others: but these were my standards, not his.

If your values and expectations aren’t established and shared from the outset, you run the risk of having to firefight all the behaviours that go against these. Indeed, I spent the rest of the time my flatmate and I lived together trying to amend the mismatch between his standards and mine.

What’s worse, you may end up instigating rules which may appear simplistic or petty to protect against infringements of your standards. In doing so, you limit others’ freedom to make their own decisions or choose their own behaviours. The old adage rings true: prevention is better than cure.


Make a checklist of your key principles, whether these are personal or professional. There is likely to be an overlap between the two if you are in charge of your own business, as your personal ethos is likely to be the eyes through which you focus the company vision.

In order to draw up what your key principles are, think about what you are like when you are at your best. Truthful? Trustworthy? Creative? Community-focused? Are you more of a risk-taking or risk-averse business? If you are risk-averse, are reliability and steadfastness at the heart of what you do?

Write down what you do best. Always write these in the positive (dependable and consistent sounds better than risk-averse, right?). Be truthful. And make your definitions as clear as possible.

You can also think about whose behaviour you have been questioning. What standard is it that they have been violating? Add it to the list.


You may create your checklist on your own, or achieve it as a shared task. If you go it alone, make sure that your list is shared with others. Expectations need to be shared so that everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet.

Best practice is to ensure that the standards you have enshrined in your key principles are collective values. It’s not just a case of making sure everyone knows the right tune and the words, but that the song they’re singing is one that they would at least consider downloading off iTunes.

Finally, for these principles to have purpose, make sure you refer to these standards as you go about your day-to-day. Challenge yourselves to adhere to them. Question yourselves and your standards. Are we living up to this principle? How? How are we not? How could we tweak the behaviour, or the standard itself? Are we sure this this is how we see the world?

Don’t be the flatmate who never does the washing up. But don’t be the flatmate who assumes everyone will share the cleaning rota that’s in your head, either. Discuss it, write it down, and stick it on the fridge door. And remember to refer back to it when you walk in the kitchen, too.

Designed by: Carne Associates & modified by Dawud Miracle