If you choose to have a values-driven organization, the end does not justify the means. For these organizations, guiding principles are the bedrock upon which they build their culture. These are things they will not sacrifice even if it means their mission will fail. Hence the question, what matters and why.

(Note this is the second of The Five Most Important Questions for BRAVE Leaders.)

Values may be words like these:

    • Company 1: Communication, Respect, Integrity, Excellence.
    • Company 2: Social Responsibility, Sustainability, Partnership, Volunteering.

Hard to argue with these words. Unfortunately, company 1 was Enron. Company 2 was Volkswagen. Neither of these companies’ leadership acted in line with their values. And that was their undoing. Enron is gone, leaving behind a trail of pain in its wake. Volkswagen’s faked emission-testing results have severely its brand.

Conversely, Procter & Gamble bought Norwich Eaton, and dropped Charlie Carroll in as general manager. When Charlie visited the Norwich operation in Mexico, he was presented with Norwich Mexico’s leading drug – the number one selling drug in all of Mexico.

“What does it do?”

“It’s a placebo. In your country doctors say ‘take two aspirin and call me in the morning’. Here doctors have people take two of these. It works half the time. And because it’s a placebo, it has absolutely no side effects. Anyone can take it.”

“Pull it off the market immediately.”

Charlie didn’t hesitate. Charlie didn’t have to call anyone at headquarters to clear his decision. He knew that selling a placebo violated Procter & Gamble’s guiding principle of doing the right thing.

At one point another Procter & Gamble employee had presented P&G’s VP of advertising, Richard Goldstein with what he thought was a tough choice. Richard didn’t see it that way at all.

“Let’s do this.”

“But that will cost us business.”

“Principles are only principles when they hurt.”

This is the difference between hollow words on a wall and principles that actually guide choices.

For example, one organization had three core values: caring, doing and delivering. One of their region teams took those fine values and turned them into something to guide their actions with and through customers to end users. They got to these:


  1. Own the Impact. Be zealous and contagiously confident in the positive impact we make on [end users] together through the lens of the customer.


  1. Be the Elite (personally and professionally) – Be the best possible subject-matter experts to partner with: We listen, understand, and help.
  2. Blaze the Trail. We live and breathe ever-better products, service and relationships contributing to each other’s’ and our customers’ success.


  1. Get It Done. We get it done better, faster, and more efficiently – close the closeable through customized solutions for our customer.

There’s a lot good about these. They nest within the company’s overall values. They are action-oriented and personal. And they guide choices.

Implications for you

If your people are living by the right values, this is a low priority exercise for you. If enough of your people are not doing the right the things, think about asking people to lay out a set of guiding principles that flow from your values.

Note you’re going to get the employee engagement you deserve.

  • If you write the guiding principles yourself, you can certainly force compliance.
  • If you want your people to contribute their best efforts, you have to invite them to contribute to the guiding principles.
  • If you want your people to commit to the cause and your guiding principles you need to let them co-create them. If just the senior leadership team co-creates the guiding principles, they will commit. If all your management co-creates the guiding principles, that broader group will commit. If you want everyone to commit, everyone needs to be part of the co-creation. This is the least efficient and messiest way to do this, and the only way to deserve broad-based commitment. Your choice.