Please Repeat Yourself (PRY)

The principle of DRY (Don’t repeat yourself) in software engineering is about brevity, efficiency, and reducing repetition.  However paradoxically, the management side of any business suffers from the opposite problem of needing to continuously share information about the mission, vision, values, and areas of focus for colleagues.  I hear the advice time and again that founders should repeat the goals of a Company and what they and the team are working on – but not a great way of remembering it.

I propose the following principle; Please Repeat Yourself (P.R.Y.)

red-building-industry-bricksThis gives not only a name and mantra to a necessary goal for founders, but also an easy moniker for those on the receiving side of the information.  Many teams encourage questions, have office hours, and do town hall type discussions – all opportunities to cover the main mission and vision, yet you cannot repeat them enough.  I have witnessed many questions from colleagues to founders rooted in confusion around core mission, core values, or attempting to measure what they themselves are working on.  In many of my own 1:1 discussions I joke that my dream is to have someone come in and tell me “I know exactly what the team is working on, as well as what I need to be doing, and what our goal is as a company.”  This is obviously an oversimplification, but knowing this statement will never happen makes me realize that this management principle of P.R.Y. should exist.

By asking folks to please repeat themselves, we can all get into the habit of divulging the core tenants of the business over and over and over again.  If you think about the average tenure of employees, especially those of startup folks, around 2 years you can see the need for this principle. When someone first starts they are thrown into the fire and expected to get up to speed on all that is happening.  If your small team is anything like the rest of them, the docs that onboard them and internal company language probably hasn’t been updated in awhile.  Expecting someone to understand the “why” behind all the decisions that have led to this point without understanding the language behind it is just unfair.  Coming back to my premise, PRY gives you a way to tell a new team member the background and knowledge behind things.

When teams begin to grow, everyone can’t be at every meeting, and you expand beyond the dunbar number, it becomes even more difficult to make sure everyone knows what is going on.  Repeating yourself here is the key to a cohesive and knowledgable team.  A good test at this phase is to ask folks how they explain what they do to a friend or family member.  You would be amazed at how folks that work at the same company can describe things in such a different way – even being on the same team.  If you think of every employee as an evangelist to your brand, then PRY is a great way to get everyone aligned.

Growing a team is critical to every startup, and everyone says that word of mouth referrals for new employees is how the best teams grow.  For this reason PRY is a great way to ensure that someone can explain what the core mission of the Company is to those prospective employees.  I have seen candidates unable to decipher what a company is doing fall back on larger established companies as they are able to grok “what is going on”.  To lose out on someone because the mission is unclear should be unacceptable.

Layering the message over and over (like the brick example) builds a great foundation that founders should be proud of, employees can contribute too, and be a part of the defensible culture of a company.

Let me know if you agree with the PRY principle.