The principal value of Values & Principles to your small architectural / design practice

Core Values

The principal value of Values & Principles

Your purpose and values are central to your practice’s identity. How well you employ them sits at the foundation of your brand. You start out brimming with hope and optimism. Demonstrating those values you believe in, and with time and success your identity emerges.

Things become more complex…

Then your environment starts to become more complex and challenging to navigate. Decisions become harder to make with more moving pieces, and promises get harder to keep.

If your practice wants to make promises you will keep, take time to think through the myriad of considerations involved before making the promise. Hype or desire often overcome common sense and renders a promise impossible to keep.

This is where your values are tested.

Many see values and principles as being synonymous, but when it comes to your practice, they aren’t.

In business there’s a hierarchy. Your business culture generally refers to the values and beliefs that you as a leader, communicate and reinforce to your team. That culture shapes how the team perceive the practice, their behaviors, and their understanding of the expectations.

Your culture

Your culture is something both your clients and your team can innately feel about your practice. Your culture is defined by quite literally everything that happens in your practice.

So, is that environment helping to achieve your purpose statement, as set out in your Brand Identity? Do you actually know what’s going on in your practice because unwritten ground rules can be a powerful force that dictates behaviors in a team.

A value is an approach you stick with even if you know it might lead to a short-term outcome you don’t prefer.

Especially then.

It’s this gap between the short-term and the long-term that makes a value valuable. Values create a compass to which you can refer whenever something is in doubt or you need to take a stand or evaluate an opportunity

Core Values

A core value may, or may not be, actionable. But it is something you will NOT trade, a non-negotiable that can (and often does) result in a competitive disadvantage. Your values are externally focused, they tell your clients, consultants, contractors and suppliers what you stand for.

Be aware that Values, like the posters on the wall that proclaim what they are, erode with time. They start to crumble at the edges, around the small stuff when your team doesn’t understand how they apply to them and what they are doing with everyday actions. You have to invest time and effort in maintaining behaviors that support them – daily!

When people say values, they often mean principles.

So how do we distinguish between them?

You may find yourself in situations where you are prepared to do a trade-off for the right offer or to take advantage of an opportunity that presents itself, then it’s probably a principle and not a value.

Principles are “…more guidelines than rules” Captain Barbosa (Pirates of the Caribbean)

Principles are actionable, with an internal focus that provides guidance for decision making. They are tactical, to accomplish certain objectives based on our current circumstances, demands, and needs. A litmus test that asks the question ‘Is this consistent with our principles?’ before making a decision to take action. You need to recognise that under certain circumstances, some of your principles may be in conflict.

For instance, you may have a principle about maximising Profitability on all projects, but also have principles about Consistency and Rigour, so you are prepared to forgo some Profitability to maintain your Consistency and Rigour around project documentation standards. These are consistent with your Values of say Integrity, Capabilities and Results.

Are they worth less?

This tension might suggest principles are worth less than values. However, everyone has both, and they are essential in their own right. When employed along side values, principles provide a productive tension that leads to better decisions that are more in sync with the current business landscape. They help values stay relevant.

Your Brand Identity

When creating your Brand Identity, it is often recommended that you make your values and principles, small in number, easy to remember and ‘uniquely’ yours. This may not be practical because, firstly – nearly all possibilities have been used before by others, so use any you have seen before and that speak to your values and principles. Use as many as you need to define your values and principles (Practically Partners’ Values are shown in the image above and our 20 guiding principles are set out on our Instagram account, so visit and follow to see each principle as it’s posted.

You can’t build a robust and resilient brand that keeps the promises you make if you don’t recognise the difference between your values and your principles, and grasp how and when to use them.

Values Gone Wrong

One of the worst cases of ‘values gone wrong’ is covered by the 2005 documentary ‘Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room’ covering the largest bankruptcy in American corporate history. Enron’s written values were:

  1. Respect
  2. Integrity
  3. Communication
  4. Excellence

Sound good, look great on the wall – but no-one from the CEO down ever followed them.

Footnote: Stephen Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ reverses the labels of Values and Principles on the definitions outlined above.

If you would like assistance, we run a workshop that helps to establish and define your values and principles as part of developing your Brand Identity document.

Practically Partners purpose is to provide:

Business Advice to grow small architectural/design practices,
creating the freedom to enjoy their passion and
step-up to their NEXT LEVEL.

Minimising the stress of transforming
your striving practice into a thriving professional business,
to become more successful and resilient.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *