Company Spotlight Company Culture
3 min read

MassChallenge: The Creation of Guiding Principles

Alexis Croswell

Alexis Croswell

Senior Content Marketing Manager, Culture Amp

The average startup accepted into MassChallenge is a team of two to three people. When these lean co-founder teams are focusing on a million things at once to build their business, laying the foundation of their culture should also be top of mind.

There’s no rulebook that says when it’s the right time for a company to create guiding principles or company values. However, many people, like Fhiwa Ndou, Director of Global Operations at MassChallenge, believe that it’s important for companies to develop guiding principles from day one. He says, “They're going to really dictate the way that people act, and it's a good way to make sure that your company is doing the right thing, and that people make the right choices when times get tough.”

MassChallenge wrote their guiding principles during their first year of operation. A small group of people including CEO John Harthorne brainstormed what they believed to be their most fundamental beliefs about working at MassChallenge. Ndou's best advice for entrepreneurs tasked with or interested in creating their own guiding principles is for the founding members of the team to be brutally honest about they want. He says, “guiding principles should be hard-wired into the company, like DNA.”


MassChallenge’s Guiding Principles

  • Help Entrepreneurs Win: Live the mission in your every action.
  • Impact Now: Think big; act big; you can change the world. Choose action.
  • Own It: Celebrate wins. Embrace failures. Be at cause.
  • Team Up: Collaborate actively. Empower your teammates.
  • Be Genuine: Give trust and earn respect. Help others understand your strengths, weaknesses, and style.

MassChallenge's values have since been shared and celebrated among the company. “I remember when I joined in 2013, we had a big poster in the office that listed our guiding principles. I thought that was awesome,” says Ndou.

The belief in MassChallenge’s values also came through in their most recent engagement survey.

96% of people agree or strongly agree to the statement "I know how my work contributes to the goals of MassChallenge" and 100% of people agree or strongly agree to the statement "MassChallenge really allows us to make a positive difference."

Along with an employee engagement score that is 5% above their industry benchmark, these statistics show a widespread appreciation for guiding principles.

While they’ve always been confident in their guiding principles, they have changed slightly over time. Last year they added the principle “Be Genuine.” Ndou says the change was natural, “As we're growing globally, we're increasing our emotional and cultural intelligence and welcoming people from different backgrounds. We’re acknowledging the fact that people are going to work differently and that's okay. It's just a matter of being yourself, and being confident enough to strike up conversations around your differences and compromise where necessary.”

Guiding Principles vs. Company Values

When it comes to the difference between guiding principles and company values, Ndou believes that both are very important, but also feels there is a difference to acknowledge.

He says, “Guiding principles reinforce decision making whereas values are a reflection of our behaviors. The difference being that guiding principles are more operationally driven than anything else. I would argue that MassChallenge values are established for the most part, but are also bound to change as our staff grows across the world.”

If you want to learn more, check out our series on how to create company values