In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.
– Thomas Jefferson
Many organizations jump to trying to define a vision and mission before taking the time to really think about and define their core principles. Principles are the foundation upon which the company is built and hopefully operates. They are so important that one definition of a principle is that you should be willing to sacrifice significant business, or even the company itself, to preserve the principle.
In private companies and smaller organizations the principles are often based off of the values of the owners or founders. For example, a company I used to work for was owned by a couple of good Catholics. Because of this, the entire organization knew there were some products that conflicted with Catholic beliefs that we would not make, for any price. The employees fully supported that principle, even though it cost business.
I’m very proud that the company I’m a co-founder of values ethics, integrity, and respect for people above all else – which are also the values of the owners and founders. We’ve had situations where a customer wanted to purchase our product, but we knew it wasn’t the right fit or product, and we openly told them, respecting that customer and our values. We respect our people by having an unlimited vacation policy, being transparent with our business operations, and, even for a very small company, having a strong benefits package that includes health care, 401(k), and profit sharing. We know our success is built on the efforts and creativity of our people.
Principles are important because they create the perspective, boundaries, and culture for the organization. Without them there stands a good chance that the culture will evolve on its own, based on the values of the stronger-willed employees. A core set of principles will help us as we proceed further with creating clarity and a plan for improvement.
Also think about your personal principles and values. What is important to you? Similar to principles in an organization, this can be defined as so important that you’d be willing to give up business – such as not taking a job even if your livelihood depended on it – to not cross your personal principles. Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic and currently a professor at Harvard, calls this the True North, or inner compass.
What are the three to five core principles and values of your organization – and you?