In church this morning, our minister asked us a very straight forward question, “Can you name someone who you look up to?”
I’ve been thinking about that question ever since, for the simple reason that I have a difficult time thinking of anyone who I can easily single out for that honor. It’s not that I haven’t had people in my life who have had a significant impact on me. It’s just that my life experiences have led me to place more value on the principles which people regularly practice than on the individuals themselves.
During my career, I spent several years working in a long-range planning and development role with the objective of not only ensuring business success by focusing on the things all businesses seek: ensuring product quality, profitability, and customer service for example; but perhaps more importantly on building an organization which would support and sustain long term, on-going world class performance.
Over time, we recognized that we were attempting to develop a Principle Centered organization, rather than one which was Personality Centered.
Our model of a Principle Centered organization was one in which all employees knew, understood, practiced, and embraced the values and core principles of the organization; as well participated in the identification and achievement of the organization’s long term goals and objectives.
By contrast, a Personality Centered organization was one in which business success was largely a function of the ability of a limited number of key individuals to determine its goals and objectives and then to lead the rest of the organization in achieving them. The problem with Personality Centered organizations is that it’s not often clear to the rest of the organization what, if any, principles guided the decision making process.
In a nut shell, we recognized that well defined and understood Principles can have an extraordinarily long life, whereas the Personalities within an organization typically change with surprising speed and regularity.
In other words, the goals, objectives, and vision of Principle Centered organizations were more likely to remain in tact in the event of personnel changes, while those of Personality Centered organizations were very likely to change as new leaders exercised their managerial prerogative to take the organization in a different direction.
You might be asking yourself, “Were we successful in building this organization?” The answer is, “Yes and No.”
We were working within a single division of a very large corporation made up of several other divisions. The Personality Centered model outlined above was successfully implemented within that division and for a span of 10 or so years it resulted in significant performance and productivity improvements, as well as the development of a workforce which felt very empowered.
Over time however, key individuals within our division who had participated in the creation of the Principle Centered organization moved on and were replaced with individuals from other divisions who had not. As they began to implement changes, the focus on our core principles began to erode, productivity and performance began to lag, and the organization slowly shifted back to the Personality Centered model.
So where does that leave me? Well, if I’m faced with having to make a choice between principles or individuals, I’ll go with the principles that I embrace every time!
(And also with the individuals who practice them!)
Photos by RawPixel on Unsplash and Lukas from Pexels