What is the Difference Between Principles and Values?

Principles and Values

Time, effort, and no small amount of money get poured into the Principles and Values of an organisation. A significant effort also gets invested into Behaviours, with codes of conduct, competency models, and all sorts of performance evaluation schemes created to measure just how much of a specific behaviour was in use (or not!).

Thinking about how many companies with fantastic performance evaluation schemes still don’t manage to produce world-class performance does get me thinking …

What often gets missed in all of this noise is the idea of Principles.

People place great store by their principles and are often willing to go into battle on a ‘matter of principle’.

So what’s the key difference between your Values and your Principles? Building on the published work of Stephen Covey:

  • values are internal, and therefore subjective, and may change over time, whereas
  • principles are external rules that are permanent and unchanging

What about in practice? For me, the hierarchy of my values is pretty clear, and I am increasingly able to recognise when I am bumping up against a re-shuffling moment.

For my principles, I still follow the two that I mapped out on a beach in Penang back in 2000 – I was working with the GM of a fancy hotel and we were discussing over dinner the value of Principles.

I decided that for me, less is more, and I would adopt three that resonated with me:

  1. Sense of urgency
  2. Follow-up
  3. Ask questions / Be Curious

Let’s dive into each of these in a little more detail …

1. Sense of Urgency

For me, this is far more than doing things quickly. As we know speed alone is not going to help too much. Going fast but in the wrong direction takes you very quickly away from where you want to be.

A sense of urgency is much more about my mindset. Take reading as an example. How quickly you read (your base rate) is likely to be between 150 to 250 words per minute. It doesn’t take much to teach yourself to increase your speed up to 350 to 400 words per minute without compromising your comprehension. Think what you could do with all that time you have saved!

So the mindset I hold is about my intention to be efficient and to be effective.

2. Follow-Up

Technology can help you here. If you can’t get to something swiftly, then make sure you don’t distract yourself and forget. Building personal systems and putting reminders in your diary sounds a bit like the basics, and that is because it is.

Use your virtual assistants, they are there to help you. Ask Siri, ask Alexa to put it in your diary and make sure that you attend to it in due course. If the issue is a relatively key one, then use the Importance vs Urgent 2×2 to figure out where it should sit.

3. Ask Questions, Be Curious

I love this one as it allows me to take a different perspective when looking at almost any situation. Asking questions like “What if their motivation was the opposite?”; “In what way am I likely to be wrong about this.?” really helped me sit outside from the desire to always be right.

Many people invest much of their ego and identity in ‘being right’, as the idea that they might be wrong is too painful for them to invite in. Addressing my own fear about being wrong, and inviting my head on the idea that I probably am wrong, means I can adopt more of a learning mindset.

There are many principles that you can choose, which ones work for you?

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