At a previous job, there was a sign posted on the breakroom wall that displayed three core principles. The company in question was a bank and the sign was not just in this breakroom but in the breakrooms of every branch and facility under the brand’s umbrella. In big, bold text it read, “Ownership, Accountability, Responsibility.”
There are a few things about these signs I didn’t appreciate—not the least of which was a cubical jungle attempting to remind me about the fundamentals of being a good person. That said, there’s a simpler problem: these aren’t principles. As far as I can tell, they’re not even values. It’s just a list of nouns.
Many companies fall under the trap of having missions, visions, and principles that end up being design-by-committee word clouds—probably the very pitfall of the above. Words like “accountability” and “responsibility” are generically kind terms that every company would like applied to them. They’re not unique and they don’t provide differentiation of any kind. While there is plenty of literature that describes what a principle is and how to write one, there’s one easy trick to remember: principles have sacrifices.
Instead, consider a word like “traditional”. A “traditional” bank could value in-person transactions and tailor to an older audience. Rather than focus on a fancy website or automation, they focus on relationships and individual needs, two amazing benefits. However, “traditional” comes at the cost of potentially not being up to date with the latest technology and most likely reliance on manual processes. It has sacrifice.
And that sacrifice is exactly what makes that principle strong. It’s something to boast about and a reason for being different.