Tom Peters writes in his classic In Search of Excellence:
Every excellent company we studied is clear on what it stands for, and takes the process of value shaping seriously. In fact, we wonder whether it is possible to be an excellent company without clarity on values and without having the right sorts of values.
Thomas Watson, Jr., of IBM, wrote an entire book on this long ago in which he summarizes what Peters (and, later, Jim Collins in Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies) found to be true of all excellent companies: in order to be an excellent company (and an enduring one), the company must be founded on a coherent set of foundational beliefs. There must be a “core.”
The core is unchanging. Everything other than the core is open to constant change. As Collins points out, the single guiding principle for managing an organization is therefore this: preserve the core and stimulate progress.
Here is how Watson put it in his classic work A Business and Its Beliefs:
One may speculate at length as to the cause of the decline and fall of a corporation. Technology, changing tastes, changing fashions, all play a part. … No one can dispute their importance. But I question whether they in themselves are decisive.
I believe the real difference between success and failure in a corporation can very often be traced to the question of how well the organization brings out the great energies and talents of its people. What does it do to help these people find common cause with each other? And how can it sustain this common cause and sense of direction through the many changes which take place from one generation to another?
Consider any great organization — one that has lasted over the years — and I think you will find that it owes its resiliency not to its form of organization or administrative skills, but to the power of whqt we call beliefs and the appeal these beliefs have for its people.
This then is my thesis: I firmly believe that any organization, in order to survive and achieve success, must have a sound set of beliefs on which it premises all its policies and actions. Next, I believe that the most important single factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs. And, finally, I believe if an organization is to meet the challenge of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except those beliefs as it moves through corporate life.
In other words, the basic philosophy, spirit, and drive of an organization have far more to do with its relative achievements than do technological or economic resources, organizational structure, innovation, and timing. All of these things weigh heavily in success. But they are, I think, transcended by how strongly the people in the organization believe in its basic precepts and how faithfully they carry them out. (Cited in In Search of Excellence, 280.)