How to write corporate positions that mean something


PD team trying to write their values on whiteboards
A pre-pandemic values-writing session

Last week saw the publication of the PD positions statement. There’s a tale to tell in how it was made, and from that some tips that might be useful to organisations that want to create something similar. First though, let’s tell the tale.

As Ben wrote in his announcement, our first efforts at coming up with a set of values were too generic.

We did team sessions in front of whiteboards, we scribbled on stickies, we grouped and refined and discussed. What came out at the other end was… bland.

Of course we want to make the world a better place. Who doesn’t? Of course we want to contribute something good to society. Who wouldn’t? The words and phrases that emerged from that process were perfectly valid things to feel and to say, but they were things that any reasonable person or company would feel and say.

They were just expressions of common sense. They said nothing that would make Public Digital sound or appear different from any other business or public entity.

So we paused the work for a while, then Ben had a breakthrough: he found that Amazon had  published a list of corporate positions. While we might not agree with all of Amazon’s statements, we really liked how they were framed and written.

The difference between the 2 formats was clear: our initial dull “values” were dull because they sounded like things the rest of the world expected to hear.

A set of positions written the Amazon way is a bolder, clearer step. It’s not “These are things we value,” it’s “This is what we believe.”

It was noticing and realising that difference that helped us change course, and write something that, after a few more iterations, ended up as the set of positions you see now.

Ben’s right when he says they can evolve over time, and that’s one of the strengths of writing about what you believe. Beliefs can change. They should change.

Writing your own

If you’re thinking of doing something like this for your company or team, here are some tips:

  • Write your first draft from the heart. It doesn’t matter if your early drafts sound too strong, too emotional or too politically charged. It’s easier to tone that stuff down than it is to make dull aspirations sound more interesting.
  • Sit on them for a bit. These PD positions were written in 2019, but the team deliberately put them aside (in fact, stuck them on the wall) to allow time for them to be judged against reality for a bit. We gave ourselves the chance to notice if we’d made any mistakes or misjudgements.
  • Make them a team effort. Everyone should have a chance to reflect on, comment upon, or re-write of your set of positions. That’s another good reason for allowing time to sit on them for a bit. A good set of positions gives voice to consensus across a whole team.

Public Digital can offer expert advice on clear communication, simple writing and content design. Contact us to find out more.

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