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Might a Voluntary Code of Honor Help Build a Culture of Respect and Collaboration?

In the SAP Community Network (SCN), we welcome a diversity of opinions, backgrounds, cultures, expertise, perspectives, and approaches. We want to hear from a wide cross-section of the population; we do not seek to stifle unpopular voices or create a homogeneous community.

And yet in practice, with a huge and diverse member base, this can become difficult to foster and encourage.  I reference this a bit in Building Community: Policies & Rules Are Guard Rails for Safe & Healthy Social Networks for a healthy community and social network. 

So, I and others believe that a “core values” statement and voluntary “honor code” would be an interesting and potentially valuable next step to build the culture of the community we hope to inhabit and engage in here.  A set of explicitly stated and shared core values might help us not just maintain but build and expand our collaborative culture.  A voluntary but shared “honor code” might establish a few underlying ethical principles intended to guide actions, approaches, and attitudes on SCN.

I’m posting a draft below for your comments and reaction.  (This draft takes inspiration from and adopts best practices from a number of other such documents we’ve found – a list and links are shown at the end.)  I’ve also posted a copy of this in our wiki in case you prefer to comment or edit there. 

Core Cultural Values & Honor Code of the SAP Community Network & Its Members

  • I will respect fellow community members, and I will conduct myself in a manner worthy of being respected.
    • Your fellow community members are individuals of all ages and backgrounds from across the globe, with differing cultural norms. We ask members to show respect to each other, whether it’s respecting an opinion, respecting copyrights / attributions, and overall respecting the spirit in which the community was created.
  • I will maintain the trust of the community.
    • We trust each individual member to be responsible, to act with integrity. We trust that you post content that you created. We trust you will help out others, and disclose any conflicts of interest. We trust that you act with honorable intentions.
  • I will strengthen the community through my membership and participation.
    • While we don’t expect every one of our ~2 million members to be regular, active participants, we do hope those who find value will pay it forward. We want members to add substance that helps makes the community better and stronger, not extraneous content.
  • I will assume good faith.
    • We trust that visitors and members come with the best of intentions, so we assume that their actions on SCN are intended with good faith. In some cases, that might not be true, but until there is contrary evidence, we will give people the benefit of the doubt and help educate behavior.
  • I will encourage fellow community members, particularly the newcomers.
    • People from all levels of experience come to SCN. New to SAP, new to the workforce, new to online community interactions…and through to the other end of the spectrum. It might be intimidating entering the party where everyone already seems to know each other and know what they’re doing, but we can encourage those just starting out and help welcome them to the SCN family.
  • I will recognize good work, acknowledging and rewarding helpful members.
    • Community members take time out of their busy schedules to help each other out – gratis – and a simple “thank you” for good work is just good manners. If you’d like to go further, praise and accolades are qualitative ways to show your appreciation, while rewarding points is a quantifiable way.
  • I will set a good example for the community through my actions and behaviors.
    • We can’t control each other’s actions, though we can guide and educate. But we can control our own actions. By embracing and internalizing the principles above, each individual can positively influence the tone of the community by setting an example through their behavior.
Sample Community Guidelines:

We used the following as best practices to borrow from, and as inspiration…

Improvements?

Is there a better, clearer, crisper way to express these values?  Have we forgotten something important?  Would you be willing to internalize, and act according to the spirit behind the words?  Would you be proud to associate with other people who adopt these as their “honor code?”   

Please feel free to comment below or in the wiki

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9 Comments

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  1. Jon Reed
    Mark,

    Thanks for this. These are worthy values to aspire to. I know in my bursts of activity I can sometimes lose track of some of these things. In a rush to post a couple of things today, for example, on various sites I could have done things a bit more carefully.

    It turns out that having values to guide you also requires some thoughtfulness in the moment. It’s the little things, like remembering how your post might impact someone else, that helps to make these values apply to each interaction.

    A couple I liked in particular: “I will assume good faith.”I think this is important because online, it is so hard to judge tone. I’ve saved myself a lot of grief in recent years by assuming good faith instead of reading too much into someone’s agenda prior to getting clarification.

    I like the part on recognition also. To me, recognition is really big in blogging, because we are almost always riffing on other people’s ideas. Taking the time to link sources and acknowledge those who have given us a foundation makes a blog post feel more like a community conversation and less like a burst of attention seeking.

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    1. Mark Yolton Post author
      Jon, I have to say that you are one of the people who is best at this, and a role model for all of us.  You are an inspiration and model for me, and I think to others as well, in that you are extremely respectful in your writing, careful and thoughtful, measured and rational.  Just yesterday you wrote something thoughtful and well reasoned that was “negative” in its assessment of something we / SAP are doing, but you had the courtesy to share it privately rather than blasting it thru a bullhorn to create a stir of controversy.  Little things like that are appreciated and reflective of the culture we desire.  (And by the way, I shared your assessment privately with the “owner” of that topic at SAP – so I hope it has impact.)  What you’re doing is on the right track.  It’s a good reminder, though, that we all need to actively work on these honorable behaviors especially when under time or other pressure. 

      Regards,
      Mark Yolton

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      1. Jon Reed
        Mark, appreciate the good words. What I can say is that as soon as I start thinking I’m “all set” with stuff like this. When I approach it like I’m working at it just like everyone else, things go better. At the risk of using a word that doesn’t necessarily have breezy and fun connotations, to me it is a daily discipline. That said, thanks for sharing these values and generating this discussion.
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        1. Jon Reed
          Hmm…that message didn’t come out right. At any rate, I the missing phrase was “when I think I’m all set with this stuff, that’s when I find myself messing up.”
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  2. Holger Stumm
    Hi Mark,
    while most of the guidelines I know are more technical (don’t post this, don’t post that) this is another example of how sdn is “different” . I think, these values are important for a huge and diverse community, but on the same token, they can be seen as reminder when you are out in “real life”.
    When I worked for SAP, these values where also (unspoken) in place when you came to different SAP offices in different continents.
    So you and your team) reached a great balance between “true” values” and day to day guidelines.
    I would like to see such a charta as part of the SCN signon.

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    1. Mark Yolton Post author
      Hi Holger – Thank you for your comment.  Yes, maybe the very fact that we are thinking about desired cultural values and are considering a “code of honor” reflects that we are different.  At the very least it shows that we aspire to be more than just a place to exchange technical information or business process best practices in a cold and sterile “post this, but not that” environment.  Our aspirations are much higher.  I appreciate that you notice this difference and support the idea to adopt such a statement or honor code. 

      Regards,
      Mark Yolton

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  3. Jim Spath
    Mark:

      This is a thoughtful, provocative post.  While I understand your position and the reasons behind producing moral guidance for the community, I wonder how useful this will be.  My continuing reaction takes me back to the section of the outstanding Joseph Heller novel Catch-22, called the “Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade.”  It was a total put-down of the efficacy of having people sign (or pledge, or promise, etc.) a document dictating their social behavior.  As a moral person, I feel I’m already minding my manners, and while a reminder of etiquette is sometimes helpful, that should already be addressed by the Rules of Engagement, Terms of Use, etc.

      Asking people to click-through a “do you agree to be nice” screen is rather silly.  The nice people will just be slowed down, and the not-nice will continue to ignore the suggestions.

      I’d refer people to Are Loyalty Oaths Really Necessary?

      Just my opinion, as usual.

    Jim

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    1. Mark Yolton Post author
      Hi Jim:

      Thank you. I appreciate you sharing your opinion.  As usual, it is well reasoned (and as usual, slightly contrarian… but that’s something we appreciate about you). 

      I think you’re right that this is not necessary.  But it might be beneficial.  (A nice-to-have versus a need-to-have.) 

      One of the things that got me thinking about this “honor code” (NOT a loyalty code and definitely not a flag lapel pin) was the section in Dan Ariely’s book on behavioral economics (“Predictably Irrational”) where studies found that simply being reminded of an honor code, or of the ten commandments, can cause people to act more honestly even without doing so consciously.  That study is mentioned here http://www.predictablyirrational.com/?p=195 and here http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/23701 (TED video). 

      So I wouldn’t be interested in making this a click-through or even close to mandatory, but I think the very act of discussing a “moral code” might be beneficial (yet still not necessary) and some people might choose to formally “adopt” such a code. 

      Meanwhile, keep those comments coming.  Thanks again.

      Regards,
      Mark Yolton

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  4. Vijay Vijayasankar
    It is indeed possible to teach new tricks to old dogs – but it is not easy, and not all old dogs take to training. I believe it is the same for humans.

    Our value systems are formed as we grow up, and barring something really big – I don’t think it will change all that much in adult life. I am a big fan of introducing these honor codes to kids early in their life so that they grow up as responsible “social animals”. However, I am a bit sceptical whether an honor code will make a difference in SCN, or any other social media.

    To make a tangible difference – you probably should force people to read it frequently (at least for a while) for all of it to sink in. But that would be like the “Do you agree?” thing at airport wifi spots. No one reads – they just click through it and think of it as a nuisance.

    I think existing mechanisms do a good job . If some one strays too far, then a moderator or admin can guide that person. And if the unacceptable behavior continues – kick that person out publicly and put it on SCN home page for the world to see. The best contributions get highlighted in SCN. So I think it is fair game to put the “worst” out there so that rest of community benefits from it.

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