The Five Basic Principles

Individuals who want to have a good reputation need to follow some pretty basic rules, such as:

  • Don’t lie, steal, or cheat
  • Do what you say you will do
  • Never do anything you wouldn’t want posted on the Internet for all to see

Organizations that want to maintain a good reputation must have people who follow the same basic rules. But organizations also need a culture based on a set of articulated values that, when exemplified in the way people go about their work, result in the desired performance. The culture must be one in which people understand that while achieving the business goals is important, how you achieve them is equally important.

As Collins and Porras reported in Built to Last – Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, companies that have managed to thrive over long periods of time have constancy of purpose and a few core values. But everything else changes over time.

Whatever the articulated values, it is essential to have an effective way to link the values with the business goals and ingrain those values into the culture. In our central Indiana Goodwill organization, the approach we take today started in the early 1990s when we articulated five basic principles we should apply in all of our work:

  • Respect for people. We strive to treat everyone in a respectful manner.
  • Customer satisfaction. We strive to meet or exceed the expectations customers, donors, and users of our services have of us.
  • Informed decision-making. We gather useful information and, to the extent possible, make decisions based on facts.
  • Innovation and improvement. We continuously seek better ways to grow, improve, and increase our impact.
  • Good stewardship. We are responsible stewards of all our resources.

For the next ten years or so, we didn’t do much with this set of basic principles. Then we decided to build our culture around and manage by them. They are incorporated into our recruitment and hiring, new employee on-boarding, and performance development review processes. We take these principles very seriously. We talk about them a lot, and over the last decade these five basic principles have become ingrained in our culture. I frequently hear employees refer to them in conversation.

We’ve also found that it’s a lot easier and more effective to manage according to a small number of values and basic principles than a thick book of rules and regulations. We have to have some of those, but we try to keep them to a minimum.

We’re far from perfect, of course. We have nearly 2500 employees, and all of us make mistakes. Still, with occasional exceptions, our employees apply the five basic principles day in and day out. If that were not the case, I’m quite sure we would not have enjoyed the kind of successes we’ve had over the past decade.