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Ten Universal Principles of the Workplace

What principles guide your workplace? Economies can change, customers can change, and so can the products and services we offer. But the principles that create an excellent workplace should be based on universal truths that don’t change.

A number of years ago I created a list of 10 universal principles that I believe apply to just about any organization. By way of refresher, I think they are worth revisiting. I hope you find these principles helpful in creating and maintaining an “excellent workplace.”

1. Real leaders keep one eye on the landscape, communicate their vision throughout the company and listen carefully to all feedback.

Leaders are like guides on a river-rafting trip. They keep one eye on the conditions they’re heading toward and make decisions about which actions are the best for getting to where they want to go. They communicate what they believe needs to happen, and they seek feedback that may be vital.

Example: If a leader tells people to “row” but doesn’t listen when they tell him their oars are broken, they’re all going to be in trouble.

2. Real managers train their teams, focus on goals and consider seriously all input for how to improve “the system.”

The role of a manager does not involve blue spandex and a cape. Frankly, despite the common misconception, nobody is really expecting managers to exhibit superhero behavior. Instead, managers need to be vitally aware of their role: Balance resources to accomplish the vision set forth by leadership, and train teams in the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for success.

Managers also need to remember that they’re not omniscient, and must therefore be open to feedback from anyone on how to improve operations.

3. People want to work on things that matter to them.

It’s a core tenet of human nature. Enough said.

4. The fundamental nature of any workplace is “raw product” plus “process” equals “outcome.”

Regardless of industry, sector or profession, everything boils down to this very basic equation, and there’s no need to complicate it: Learn all the facets of the “raw product.” Learn the nuances of the “process.” Do those two things well and the chances of an excellent “outcome” are greatly increased.

5. Employees are not psychics. They need to be taught the expected “outcome,” and the nuances of both the “raw product” and “processes” needed to achieve that outcome.

Wouldn’t it be easy to attach a cable to the back of each employee’s head and upload everything they need to know? Sure, but it’s not reality. Therefore, managers and leaders must think like trainers and provide training where it’s needed. There’s just no other way around it.

6. The workplace needs to be a supportive, forward-thinking environment.

Supported objects remain standing in a storm, while unsupported objects fall over. Similarly, when trouble comes, forward-thinking teams seek solutions while backward-thinking teams focus on whom to blame.

7. Training other team members to understand what you do is central to team environments.

When team members are clueless about what other team members are responsible for, it leads to slower decisions, and sometimes bad ones, too. Like players on a baseball team, knowing what one can expect from other team members builds speed, confidence and productivity.

8. Focusing on results is much more effective than focusing on accurate time cards.

The concept of Results Only Work Environments (ROWE) continues to grow in popularity. In many jobs, the most important factor is getting expected results in a timely manner, not whether Joey or Suzie left early.

9. Public criticism or disrespect toward a co-worker diminishes the value of all employees.

Think of this principle as one drop of food coloring making an entire bowl of water turn a particular color. When people are publicly reprimanded or shown disrespect (either to their face or behind their back), it’s like a poison that starts working its way through interpersonal relationships. Just like the food coloring, the poison eventually taints all aspects of the workplace.

10. Failure happens, but most failure can be prevented by comprehensive and forward-looking cooperation.

In other words, effective planning, organizing and cooperating results in potential obstacles being identified before they manifest. But turf wars, egos and hidden agendas prevent open communication, and the result is often unpleasant surprises. It’s like the old adage: “An ounce of planning is worth a pound of cure.”


Dan Bobinski is a best-selling author and president of Online Train the Trainer, where he teaches managers and leaders to think and act more like trainers. Reach him at (208) 375-7606 or dan@workplace-excellence.com.

About Dan Bobinski