What Are Principles?

Have you heard the story of the guy who tried to return a set of tires to Nordstrom? He came in and claimed that he had bought the tires in that very store and that they were defective. It’s important to understand that Nordstrom does not have a return policy and gives store managers the ability to make decisions on their own. After reflection of the situation, and reflecting on the company culture of putting the customer first, the store manager decided to accept the return and reimburse the guy for what was claimed to be the original cost.

The decision was made because of a principle that was established from the beginning of that company… and they stick to it. Sure, they have become more sophisticated in preventing fraud within their stores, but they remain focused on not having a return policy and putting the customer first.

A principle is a universal truth that is used as a baseline to guide an individual or a collective unit on behavior, code of conduct, actions, or state of being. It is a statement, usually based on observation, that leads to predictable results. It is not a request or call to action. Nordstrom had a principle that by putting the client first, everything else would take care of itself.

Principles are what guide a company, like Nordstrom, through difficult times. Thomas Paine wrote, “I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.”

We see companies making good decisions every day because of their principles (and some making bad decisions because of the lack thereof). For example, Apple has the ability to make touch screen laptops. Why don’t they? It has been said that they don’t believe they are conducive to the user experience. They are following one of their guiding principles.

Patagonia, an outdoor retailer, will do whatever it takes to make sure their products maintain high quality standards, appear timeless, and production is done with fair trade and by sustainable manufacturing practices. They even check the farmers that grow their material to make sure they are also operating with sustainable practices.

Walmart, a company many chose to pick on, has guiding principles. Their mission is to get cost as low as possible, and they do a phenomenal job at it, even though it tends to be at the expense of one thing or another.

It is not a question of right or wrong. Principles are universal guidelines that suggest a consistent output. If you conduct business in this manner, based on a certain principle, this is your output. Are you OK with that? It is up to you to decide if you are in harmony with your principles or not.

What principles does your business live by? Are they written down? Do your employees and clients know them? Do they believe in them? May I suggest spending a day to evaluating your guiding principles. Compare them with the perceived business principles. Are they in harmony with each other? A lot can be said about a person or a company when you boil every down to the guiding principles and their willingness to adhere to them.