top of page

Principles Empower, Process Controls


"As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods.  The man, who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble" - Ralph Waldo Emerson


In my recent post about Practical Strategy I mentioned my self-label, the Anti Consultant.  There are several ways in which this manifests itself, probably the most important being a difference in approach to business compared to many consulting firms and business leaders.  They have an idea that sells, then they ‘process-ize’ it – divide it into smaller processes and define each process for someone to do.  A person then does that process continuously.  This is the birthplace of ‘the cube’ in offices.  No need to leave it as long as you’re completing your process.

And it has its benefits: particularly if you are the person at the top who sees all.  If you’re a cog, less so, as you can’t see the big picture and have no freedom to express your creativity.  Of course, you have a safe job; until a different process comes along, or a computer or someone ‘offshore’ does it cheaper and/or better.


I don’t know about you, but I like some freedom in my work.  Freedom to improve, solve problems and deliver the level of service I expect.  I like to try new things and learn.  Not much chance of this in a box.  I have the feeling that ‘Millennials’ aren’t keen on cubes either…

It seems time to move beyond just processes.  Many of the ‘breakthrough’ ways of working hailed at companies like Google, Facebook, etc. seem like common sense to me.  But, as often discussed with a colleague when recruiting, “common sense isn’t all that common”.  We regularly found that it is pretty rare in the corporate world – perhaps due to many being ‘cubed’.  Now obviously that’s a sweeping generalization, but business leaders echo this and agreed with the ‘cube’ theory of management.  Are common sense and initiative being ‘process-ized’ out of people?

A Principle - Customer Focus

Yes, some activities are deadly dull and can be done better and cheaper by machines.  People are not perfect, and will make mistakes, however, we are also creative solution finders who can learn and deliver the exceptional.  Think about when you’ve had amazing service: when was the last time you were amazed by the way your drink thudded into the drawer of a vending machine?  I believe we can best employ people by providing clear objectives and a framework of principles within which to freely deliver our purpose.

Alongside a necessary focus on efficiency (however, often with lower quality) let’s consider providing value that customers will evangelize about.  And if we do this well, they will realize just what they have been putting up with.  The principle I was branded with at University, and in every role since, is that of Customer Focus.  And it works.


My favorite example of this is First Direct Bank in the UK.  When banks were all off-shoring, First Direct took a different route.  Realizing that the public didn’t trust banks and hated their service, despite them having local branches, they set up an online and phone only bank.

After initial skepticism and many recommendations, we tried them and continue to tell everyone how great they are.  They employ people in the UK who are well trained to solve problems quickly and efficiently.  They simplify the complex, they are empowered to sort things out and you come away feeling positive.  Their online systems are easy and simple and the support for their call center folks must be easy too.  Add revolutionary products like the ‘reverse-mortgage’ that every American who hears about it wants (look it up on the web) and you have a bank that is successful and people advocate for.

First Direct use principles to empower their people to help their customers: customer service, solution orientation, simplicity, authenticity (none of which I experienced from my cell carrier earlier today: “you were an 11 out of 10 customer today, thank you so much for being with us, have a nice day)” as I realized that our 30-minute online chat hadn’t actually solved my problem.

Are you as a leader providing a framework of principles to enable your team to deliver on their specific area of responsibility, their way?  Rather than a ‘do it this way’ mentality providing fear of mistakes, little ownership and stimulation, they can focus on how to continuously improve things through creativity and pride.  And your customers will notice (if I had a reasonable alternative I would be with another cell carrier now).

We Have a Choice

The Economist recently published an article that highlighted the way that newer, more agile manufacturers and service providers are taking significant business from the big old brands.  With the world changing faster and faster, I see this happening more often, in part due to their over reliance on processes to drive economies of scale.

And, although technology can help us in many ways, I’m not convinced that diving headlong into the web is the only way.  Consultants are all going there, but the technology ultimately must work with people, and we like good, responsive service.  Artificial intelligence is improving, but we are the ones that come up with the ideas that will meet today’s needs better and tomorrow’s needs soon.  We must understand our customers and find solutions that meet their needs, not just copy everyone else or just use the latest technology.

So rather than buying that same old process that the consultant has just rolled out to all your competitors, how about employing someone who will help you design your strategy to empower your people to meet your customers’ needs in the way they would want to be served?

Principles empower, Process controls

bottom of page