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Principles Trump Process!

by David Brock on April 18th, 2011

On Friday, I had the pleasure of speaking with my friend Charlie Green  (as well as the rest of the group on Future Selling Insitute’s Office Hours).  Charlie reminded me of a critical issue–I think I knew it, but it was unconscious.   Charlie reminded me that leadership, and sales, is so complex that leading from principle is far more important than leading through process.

Now that I’ve had a little time to reflect, it’s really critical that leaders understand and embrace this concept.  When you think of the high levels of complexity, the pace of change, and the “unexplored” opportunities we encounter every day, too often our processes–however thoughtfully developed–are insufficient, ineffective, or outdated.  Yet we must move forward, taking action, providing direction and leadership.

The question becomes, when your processes fail or are inappropriate, what do you fall back on?  What guides your actions and decisions?  How do you move forward?  It’s the basic principles that provide a framework for taking action in the absence of any structure or processes.  They are the “guideposts” for how we behave and act.

Principles cover a wide set of things.  They can be foundational (I don’t know if that’s a word) or core, like “what are our values?”  “How do we want to be perceived within our community –customers, employees, shareholderss, extended community?”  “How do we value our customers?”  These are critical for any organization.  It allows everyone in the organization, absent rules and policies, to be able to do the right thing–however the organization defines it.  If one of our values is “Do the right thing for the customer,”  a customer service person might waive a fee, or we might accept a return without the right approvals, or we might invest lots resources solving a problem–all without waiting for management approval or going through channels.

Principles can be very basic.  For example when I first started selling, my employer–IBM–made certain I understood some basic principles about selling, and how IBM sold.  Those principles became so ingrained, that whenever I faced a challenge in a sales opportunity, and our processes or methods didn’t seem to provide the answer, when I went back to basic principles, I could always make some sort of progress.

For those of you who have followed this blog for some time, you know I’m fiercely process focused.  At the same time, our processes can’t define everything.  I’ve always known there’s something more foundational (there’s that word again), but hadn’t been able to articulate it–but it’s principles.

As leaders, we want to put in place great processes that drive productivity and performance.  But more important, we want to be able to equip our people with the capabilities to take the right actions or make the right decisions when process fails them.  We need to make sure our people understand the principles on which our processes are built.  We want them to use these principles to take independent action when our processes don’t give them the right direction.  We need to instill theses principles–the core one’s about the business—what is our value system, how do we hold the customer, what do we want our customers’ experiences to be, how do we hold our employees and partners, what’s right……  We also need to instill less lofty principles like what are the foundations of selling, what are the foundations of our business, and so forth.

If we get our people to understand and internalize the principles, we have created capability for them to act and grow.

Do you know the basic principles for your business, function, and profession? 

Do you use them when your processes and methods fail to provide direction?

Do your people understand and leverage them in the same way?

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