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Principles in Action

My grandson is 3 years old – and if you’ll allow me to say so – he is really smart. He knows me. He knows my principles. How do I know that? Recently, I was giving him a bath. He started playfully splashing me. I said, “Stop it,” but without any serious tone. His mother walked in the room and said, “Grant, we do not splash our grandma. Do you understand?” He looked up at his mom and stopped splashing me. Then mom walked out of the room. Before I turned back to him in the tub, Grant grabbed a bucket of water and threw it at me, soaking me from head to toe. He knew my bath time principle. Mom is about rules. Grandma is about fun. Mission accomplished.

Principles are established solely by our actions, not our words.

The people that work for us are just like my grandson. They watch our actions, and ignore our words.

I admire people and companies that act on their principles. And I’ve learned that the best way to find out if people or companies have principles is to stress-test the principle. Under stress, you quickly find out what people really believe. Because, as my mother always said, “Actions speak louder than words.”

One such company I admire is Mars, Inc., a global organization famous for selling candy like Dove bars and M&Ms. Mars has five stated principles on their website: quality, responsibility, mutuality, efficiency, and freedom. It is not unusual for companies to have stated values on their website; in fact, it is quite common. What is unusual about Mars is that they publish an annual report called “Principles in Action” that shares the evidence that they are living their principles.

For example, the principle of mutuality is described as follows: A mutual benefit is a shared benefit; a shared benefit will endure. On the Mars website, they explain further:

We depend completely on the strength of our relationships – with our consumers, with our associates (employees), suppliers, distributors and the communities in which we live and work. We believe we will only achieve the best results if we are unselfish in these relationships and give a fair return.

That is a brilliant statement of principle – it even sounds like servant leadership.

But now let’s dig a bit deeper. Does Mars live this principle in action?

In 1998, Russia defaulted on its debt and the value of the ruble crashed. Mars distributors in Russia were in trouble and easily could have lost their businesses in this period of economic distress. But take a look at this short two-minute video to find out what mutuality looks like in action:

There is no doubt that the distributors in Russia saw the Mars principle of mutuality in action. It is the reason they are still in business today.

What about your organization? There are probably some principles on the company website or on a plaque on the wall. But are the principles alive in the actions of the team? If an undercover camera crew came to take a look at the decisions and actions of your team, what would they find?

“True character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation.” Robert McKee, Author

It is a good thing to write down the principles that matter most – in your business and in your life. But the only purpose of a principle is to be put into action.

Pick a few that really matter. And demonstrate them daily in your actions.

Serve well.

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