This is not a post about gay marriage. It is a post about whether principles matter – they do.
In my lean seminars when the subject turns to culture I have been using a slide with this graphic for years:
The point is not that any particular religious beliefs should be imposed on the business in order to achieve a sound culture. It is that principles matter. The best companies are led by people with a clear sense of right and wrong that supersedes profit concerns – that profits must be realized in a way that is fair, honorable and fully respective of employees, suppliers, customers, shareholders and communities – all of the stakeholders in the business.
The alternative is the 'Godfather approach' – you know – when Sonny got after Michael for making things personal when they were really just business. It is the idea that personal feelings and principles have no place in business … that all that matters is profit.
When a business is driven solely by the Godfather principle the slippery slope that begins with abandoning what the Cathy family believes about gay marriage in order to avoid losing sales to those who disagree cannot help but lead to abandoning loyalty to employees and the Chick-fil-A communities for the same narrow reasons.
You can read an eloquent rationalization from the conventional business thinking community of why the Cathy's should keep their moral compass out of the business … "Leaders tend to perform best when everyone feels welcomed and valued," says the Bloomberg Business Week author. I would suggest that, when a leader keeps the principles he professes to believe in church on Sunday or a synagogue on Saturday or wherever else he or she goes to connect with what drives the soul out of the business, no one is valued because nothing is valued but money.
I happen to be a big supporter of Chick-fil-A and their principles driven business model, and I don't agree with much the Ben and Jerry's people believe in, but I have equal respect for Ben and Jerry's for the simple reason that they have a long track record of driving their business on clearly stated and firm principles. People know where they stand with these companies because their leaders make it clear that decisions are made in a manner relentlessly consistent with principles. People work for, sell to and buy from these companies because their principles align with those of the business.
When the only principles driving the business are market share and profit, and decisions are made on the basis that anything advancing those goals is acceptable, people are little more than cannon fodder.
Every truly lean company I have ever known is guided by a north star that reflects the values of its leaders, and those leaders profess the same values on Saturday and Sunday they do at work from Monday throuh Friday. They make a lot of money because people are inspired and driven in large part by those values. There are lots of companies without principles that lose an awful lot of money.