“The Principles”… At Work

Principles Book Cover

I just finished a three-month odyssey of reading Ray Dalio’s book, The Principles. It is a 592-page distillation of all that he’s learned in his very successful career. For those of you not familiar with the man, he built the Bridgewater hedge fund into a multibillion-dollar operation and is himself a billionaire. Time said he is one of the world’s 100 most influential people. He is known not just for his investing acumen but also his business leadership qualities.

His section on Work Principles goes from page 296 all the way to page 437. His outline summarizing the work principles was 23 pages. The point is- there is a lot there.

In this article, I will share some of what I learned from this reading and my observations that may apply to how you manage your career and workplace.

“For any group or organization to function well, its work principles must be aligned with its members’ life principles.”

Dalio begins with his four overriding principles about work.

  1. An organization is a machine consisting of two major parts, culture and people.
  2. Tough love is effective in achieving both great work and great relationships.
  3. A believability-weighted idea meritocracy is the best system for making effective decisions.
  4. Make your passion and your work one and the same, and do it with people you want to be with.

One of Dalio’s overarching themes is that of Transparency. It applies to all aspects of a business. Transparency with members, clients, and customers, and transparency with employees. Dalio says never to let loyalty to people stand in the way of truth and the wellbeing of an organization. In my 40+ years of workplace experience, this is a profound statement. I believe we try to please people out of self-preservation. Who wants to piss off the tribal leader anyway? Doing so only puts ourselves at risk.

Managers and leaders must be told that any implication of threat, favoritism, or looking the other way, will not guarantee job security but rather the exit door. It is a matter of trust. People in fear of radical transparency should be removed from an organization. The challenge is… who dares go first? Who dares to say, something’s not right here? Who dares to speak up at the risk of being shunned, retaliated against, or blackballed? Answer: Only those who stand on their principles. And this is the point. The decision by each individual to stand up creates a collective culture that stands up.

I once heard it said that “Culture is defined by how we collectively deal with our shit.” In a Dalio-run company, problems get an open forum where robust dialogue can lead to smart answers.

Dalio talks about the importance of defining the meaning in your work. This comes at both a macro and an individual level. From a macro standpoint, leadership should share what they believe to be the meaning in their work. From a micro level, employees should be encouraged to define that for themselves. This doesn’t happen by accident. It only happens through process and agreement.

So, if I surveyed your employees or even asked you, is there clarity about what your mission is? Clarity about where you exist to serve? Because of my speaking and training experience, I’ve been in hundreds of different offices all around the country. Only a handful of them do a good job of visually defining their mission. In those companies, you must be blind not to know what it is, because it is branded throughout the entire environment. If I went to your company, what story would it tell?

I love it when Dalio talks about delegation. Anyone who is successful has been through the fear and learning curve associated with delegating. The emotional blockage is getting over the reality that people make mistakes. When you delegate to people, they are guaranteed to make mistakes! Just like you did on your way to being an expert at something. But do you want to be an expert anymore at $25/hour work? Or would you be willing to let somebody make a few mistakes so you don’t have to do it anymore?

With my employees, I had a one mistake rule. I expected them to make mistakes, just not the same one twice. We figure out what we have to do so it doesn’t happen again. As Dalio said, “I don’t mind if they scratch the car, just so long as they don’t wreck it.”

I love when Dalio says, “Know that nobody can see themselves objectively.” Amen to that brother! Perhaps the greatest benefit of coaching is that it helps expose a side of yourself you weren’t aware of. My coaches have done that with me, and I’ve gotten better over the years at doing that with my clients. Removing our “blind spots” is an important formula for success. We all have plenty of data and are smart people. It’s our emotional blockages that tend to be the biggest challenge.

I love Dalio’s conversation around meritocracy. It goes along with his idea of transparency. How do you know if you’re succeeding in an organization? Half of the people at any one position are better than the other half. How do you define that boundary? How would you define excellent performance? That can’t be done simply by intuition. If you’re in something like sales, then you can look right to the data. What if it’s not as easy to capture the benchmarks? Answer: Do what you can do, so you create relevant benchmarks.

Dalio encourages us to move away from opinions about what success looks like to as much data as possible. If we consider an opinion, there should be strong logic behind it. Dalio spends many pages talking about improving communications and getting past disagreements.

Next, Dalio spends a bunch of time talking about hiring responsible people. Having a great hiring process, looking for people who “sparkle”, valuing diversity, constant training, evaluation, and feedback, and be willing to fire or as he says, “Shoot the people you love” and never lower the bar.

Here’s one I like: “Don’t try to be liked, try to be understood.” This is a big problem for managers, especially if they have been promoted out of the ranks. In my experience, it’s also about managers understanding they are responsible to the people they manage, and unless there is some legal obligation, they are not responsible for the people they manage. This is an enormous psychological distinction.

One aspect I found interesting was Dalio’s belief you should create an organizational chart to look like a pyramid with straight lines down that don’t cross. This runs contrary to most of what I’ve been observing and reading. Today, we talk about neural networks, where all parts interact with each other. I don’t believe that Dalio discounts the network effect. What he is harping on is the importance of knowing where the buck stops in terms of responsibility. Stay in your lane until it is appropriate to move out of it.

Dalio says everyone has too much to do. Amen! It wasn’t until my 40s that I’ve realized that highly successful people never get everything done. This is one reason why prioritizing projects and your time is so important. Managing from a carefully crafted calendar as opposed to a to-do list. Making sure the team is in alignment and in agreement on all responsibilities and deliverables. And realize, it will never all get done. Just make sure it’s not urgent or important matters that fall through the cracks.

Finally, Dalio reminds us that no principles, rules, or process can ever substitute for a great relationship.

Question: what principles guide your work?

The Benefit in Benefits

“The greatest benefit is the one last remembered.”

Barber’s Book of 1,000 Proverbs

Research from Glassdoor found that more than half (57%) of people surveyed said benefits and perks are among their top considerations before accepting a job, and four in five workers say they would prefer new benefits over a pay raise.

The Top Five Benefits Ranked By Employees

  1. Health care insurance (e.g., medical, dental): 40%
  2. Vacation/paid time off: 37%
  3. Performance bonus: 35%
  4. Paid sick days: 32%
  5. 401(k) plan, retirement plan and/or pension: 31%

Below is a list of employee perks that have been shown on Glassdoor, Inc., Forbes and other publications. Take a quick look at them, and then I will share my thoughts:

  1. Netflix offers one paid year of maternity and paternity leave to new parents. They also allow parents to return part time or full time and take leave as needed throughout the year.
  2. REI encourages its employees to get outside by offering two paid days off a year (called “Yay Days”) to enjoy their favorite outside activity.
  3. Salesforce.com employees receive six days of paid volunteer time off a year, and $1,000 a year to donate to a charity of their choice.
  4. Spotify provides six months of paid parental leave, plus one month of flexible work options for parents returning to the office. The company also covers costs for egg freezing and fertility assistance.
  5. World Wildlife Fund employees take Friday off every other week, also known as “Panda Fridays” at the nonprofit.
  6. Airbnb, which was named Glassdoor’s Best Place to Work in 2016, gives its employees an annual stipend of $2,000 to travel and stay in an Airbnb listing anywhere in the world.
  7. PwC offers its employees $1,200 per year for student loan debt reimbursement.
  8. Pinterest provides a unique take on the parental leave policy by providing three paid months off, plus an additional month of part-time hours, and two counseling sessions to create a plan to re-enter the workplace.
  9. Burton employees receive season ski passes and “snow days” to hit the slopes after a big snowfall.
  10. Twillo offers employees a Kindle plus $30 a month to purchase books.
  11.  Twitter is well known for providing perks such as three catered meals a day, but some lesser-known benefits include onsite acupuncture and improv classes.
  12. Accenture covers gender reassignment for their employees as part of their commitment to LGBTQ rights and diversity.
  13. Walt Disney Company wants its employees and their friends and family to enjoy the “Happiest Place on Earth” as much as their visitors by offering free admission to its parks, and discounts on hotels and merchandise.
  14. Facebook provides $4,000 in “Baby Cash” to employees with a newborn.
  15. Evernote hosts classes through “Evernote Academy,” which offers team-building courses like macaroon baking.
  16. Epic Systems Corporation offers employees a paid four-week sabbatical to pursue their creative talents after five years at the company.
  17. Adobe shuts down the entire company for one week in December and one week over the summer.
  18. Asana employees have access to executive and life coaching services outside of the company.
  19. Zillow allows employees traveling to ship their breast milk.
  20. Google provides the surviving spouse or partner of a deceased employee 50% of their salary for the next ten years.
  21. Last, Costco has some of those most satisfied employees, and it all starts with the fact the company has always paid above the average retail rate for its employees, its goal being to provide a “living wage.”

Indeed recently came out with its data 15 Best Places to Work: Compensation & Benefits, based on user ratings and reviews on Indeed. You could go through those rewards winners and add to this list.

Here are my takeaways from all of this:

    1. In every survey I have ever seen, including the one above, most employees prefer a dollar in benefits vs. a dollar in compensation. I think that is because benefits are often non-taxable, they offer a sense of security, meet a specific need, and show you care.
    2. This is one big marketing exercise. It’s internal branding to your employees. Meaning you want to approach it like a marketer, not just an HR executive. What are the costs, difficulties of implementation, and results? If you we don’t go through that analysis you will waste both time and money, and not produce the results sought after.
    3. Speaking of results, are you clear about which results you are trying to achieve? And, who is motivated by this benefits approach to receive that results? For example, if by offering great health care benefits you seek to have a better chance of hiring and retaining, is there any proof behind that assumption? What data do you have to support it?Do you do post-hire entrance interviews to understand exactly why they said yes to working with you and what part your health care benefits played in making that decision? Did they compare your benefits package against other companies? Was it a tipping point in their decision? Or, did they do none of that, and simply assumed they get benefits? Or, maybe benefits played no role in their decision at all because what they needed was a job. Any job. And, desperate to hire, you said yes.

      Who would be most attracted to great health care benefits? Older, less healthy workers, and workers with families. Does anyone disagree with that? Most 25-year-olds could care less about health care benefits. Maybe they want to know where the party’s at? Work and community events may be a much bigger driver for them. Point is, the benefit must fit the circumstances to be effective.

    4. Experiment. Every benefit idea in the list above was a thought before it was ever implemented. It was an experiment before it was a practice. Test different benefits and see which ones provide the greatest bang for the buck. Good marketers assume nothing and test everything. I think benefits at many companies are one big guessing game.
    5. You may be saying to yourself I’m not Costco and can’t afford all these benefits and perks. Perhaps the other side of that argument is Costco is Costco because it offers these benefits and perks and can therefore attract and retain great employees. The chicken or the egg? Something to think about.
    6. Be creative. Many ideas set forth were “non-traditional” before they weren’t. Remember, people have different needs and one size does not fit all. For example, only a few percent of employees at Zillow are getting breast milk shipped. But for them it is a big deal.One way to be creative is to be inclusive. How can employees and managers assist in designing benefit incentives? You will never know until you ask.
    7. Last, as the quote at the outset reminded us, the impact of benefits wears off. The flowers you brought home last month don’t register anymore. My advice is to remind employees of their benefits. Put it on posters and in total paycheck statements.

With 4% unemployment levels, employers have to be competitive and creative when seeking talent. They have to realize their top talent is continually being solicited. If not by recruiters, then by emerging AI driven sourcing tools.

I will send you a spreadsheet I developed to help you think through the math of designing great benefit programs. Send an email to don@donphin.com


All the best, Don

Leadership and Self-Deception

The book Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box by The Arbinger Institute was a wake-up call for me. The deception is this: because my self-talk is I care my actions show I care.

Not so fast.

When giving presentations I challenge leaders to give me an example of how they showed someone they cared about them…and no, a paycheck doesn’t count. Usually a great deal of silence follows as they explore their memories for such an example. Some will talk about how they showed up for employees facing medical or family situations. For the rest, like it was for me, it is a wake-up call. We get our deception.

Unfortunately, when we run 75 miles an hour, it’s hard to show people we care for them because heck, we don’t even show ourselves we care for ourselves. We become numb and we engage in ongoing criticism as supposed to anything positive.

Check your head: when is the last time you showed somebody at work you care about them?

Go into your day intending to show people you care about them. How can you do that? Some ideas:

  1. Check in with any family concerns.
  2. Check in with how they are doing at work.
  3. Tell them something you admire about them.
  4. Listen to them with full presence.
  5. Go to lunch or take a walk with them.
  6. Write a personal note.

How will you show somebody you care about them today? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

What Will You Do to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone?

“Only the mediocre are ever truly comfortable.” Paulo Coelho
“If it’s not hard, it’s soft.” – Ice Cube.It is soooo easy to get comfortable. On the couch…and with your job, your company, your marriage, your health, etc.

We all seek comfort and security. It feels so safe. Like being cradled.

But… it is a trap! It’s how you grow old and irrelevant…at any age. It will deaden your motivation, engagement and drive. It will eliminate the dreams of your youth. You will become a zombie…in your comfortableness. Breathing all right; but not alive.

When we are too comfortable for too long we are guaranteed to get run over by people or companies not interested in being comfortable!

Yes… I hear you say…but I put so much effort to get this point why would I put that at risk?

My answer is so you live a full life. To the end. So you have no regrets or remorse about playing all in.  So you set an example.

We all have our comfort zones. My question is what will you dare to do to get out of your comfort zone??

  • Will you dare to have a great career?
  • Will you dare to try a new project?
  • Will you dare to have a great marriage?
  • Will you dare to do a great job of saving and investing money?
  • Will you dare to do a great job of managing your health?

A great filtering question to ask: Is this thought or action based out of a desire to avoid pain and discomfort?  Or, is it based out of a desire for continuous growth?

While jumping out of planes is one way to do things, you don’t have to leap out of the comfort zone. Just take one step at a time. That builds muscle and confidence.

And don’t worry. You don’t have to go off into orbit. You’ll know if you’ve gone too far. But you will never know where that boundary is until you meet it!

Here’s 10 ideas for your daring to step out of your comfort zone:

  1. Go to lunch with somebody very different from you.
  2. Say “no” to doing something. Eliminate, automate or delegate it.
  3. Wear something funky, fun, bright, unique. Give them something to talk about.
  4. Go to the library for three hours of uninterrupted time, where there are no distractions and flush that idea out.
  5. Find a group that likes to do fun an different things.
  6. Stop saying you are busy. Doing what? Filling up space?
  7. Show one person per day you care about them for 30 straight days.
  8. Send 5 handwritten notes.
  9. Read or watch something different. Remember, profound thoughts, those aha’s, come from outside your comfort zone.
  10. Make your own list of 10 things you will do over the next 10 days to get out of your comfort zone.

Please let me know what you’ve dared do to push your boundaries!


PS if you are in SoCal get thee or thy HR person to my Great HR workshop in June. More info here. That will get you outside your comfort zone!

Are You a “Negative Hero”

I know sometimes I am. I know there are times when my intentions are good…but my outcomes are not. That’s what a “negative hero” is.

Think about your parents for a minute. When you were a kid their intentions were good (they did love you after all) but many times they were too critical, judgmental and punishing. It seemed all they could focus on is where we didn’t do something 100% right…according to their rules.

As we got older and more independent the result wasn’t submission anymore… but a fight or flight response.

And they lost part of us in the process.

I decided I didn’t want to to lose my kids…or my best employees and clients either.

When I do workshops I talk about the 80% leader, with their strong emotional energy. Control, in the name of good, is their game.

I just heard a great quote that applies to being an 80%’r. “You can’t arrest your way out of a problem.” By William Joseph “Bill” Bratton, 38th Police Commissioner, NYC.

Why do we as leaders and bosses and parents think we must will our way through a problem? Don’t we make our ongoing micro-arrests when we so? How’s that feel to other people. You may be 100% right…and it still feels wrong.

When we play with an 80% energy we become villainized. People feel our energy. They don’t feel our intent. Like the antelope tracked by the cheetah, it feels the vibe and …poof!

Unless you want to end up alone, or surrounded by submissives, the 80% approach is not the answer.

The answer is managing your emotional energy. Much of our 80% comes from the fear of what may happen. That fear overwhelms us in the present moment causing our energy to well up so we can control the situation and protect ourselves.

Here’s the answer: Stay present. Feel what is going on, right now. Is your emotional energy “up” because you are fearful? Are you in survival mode? How is that helping right now?

When we are present with a situation our emotional energy is balanced. Both of us take up enough space to leave room for the co-creation and dance. I call that playing 40/40.

When we are 40%’rs we allow other people to become their own heroes. Our kids, employees and customers/clients.

Real heroes inspire others to become their own heroes. You can only do that when your emotional energy is present and not hijacked by fear.

By the way, I find this is an ongoing process. We must fight our natural instincts to be fearful of the future…every day…day after day.


PS Lesson 9 in the Great HR Program is all about managing our emotional energy. That lesson alone is worth the price of admission to the entire program. www.greathr.com

Managing the Emotions of Change

Months ago I had the opportunity to present at DisruptHR on managing the emotions of change. You get 20 slides and 5 minutes to do it! Remember the magic words- coax, encourage and inspire!

List of Things That I am Grateful For

Sometimes life hands us challenges, and we can become focused on the negatives. One of my practices to counteract that pressure is to constantly remind myself of how lucky I am… and the things I am grateful for.

I put these 25 things I am grateful for on colorful index cards and run through them on a daily basis. What would you put on your cards? What if this was a practice of your work team and family too? Expressing what we are grateful for might be a good way to start a meeting or family dinner.

  1. I am grateful for this day!
  2. I am grateful for doing my work.
  3. I am grateful for the great outdoors, hiking, and camping.
  4. I am grateful for sandy beaches and waves.
  5. I am grateful for the perfect margarita and a frosty cold beer.
  6. I am grateful for smart, caring, people who want to do well.
  7. I am grateful for big smiles, laughs, high fives and hugs.
  8. I am grateful for the 5,000 generations before me.
  9. I am grateful for Jesus, Buddha, Solomon, Tolle, Ram Dass, Gurdjieff, Loy and my other spiritual teachers.
  10. I am grateful for baseball, football, basketball, volleyball, surfing, the Olympics and kids’ sports.
  11. I am grateful for a sound mind and a sound body.
  12. I am grateful for my love from my friends and family.
  13. I am grateful for my clients.
  14. I am grateful for planes, cars, boats and bikes.
  15. I am grateful for being able to have great clothing for work and play.
  16. I am for great music, art and poetry.
  17. I am grateful for great stories, movies, plays and books.
  18. I am grateful for my freedom.
  19. I am grateful for living in Coronado, CA, USA, this planet.
  20. I am grateful for the sun, the moon and stars.
  21. I am grateful for the military and police that help protect me.
  22. I am grateful for living in a democracy.
  23. I am grateful for all my school teachers.
  24. I am grateful for the Yankees.
  25. I am grateful just to be here!

What I Can Control

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

I can control…

  • What my “story” is
  • What my values and goals will be
  • How well I plan my career and life in general
  • Who my friends are
  • If I “make my day” by planning it the night before
  • When I get up every day
  • What I do first thing when I get up
  • If I choose to exercise or meditate or both
  • If I connect with my family and tell them I love them
  • What I do on the way to work
  • When I arrive at work
  • How I “show up”
  • What I will get done that day
  • How many hours I will spend at work
  • If I will take breaks for rest and recuperation
  • If I will write a thank you note today
  • If I will stop doing low value, meaningless work
  • How much caffeine I will consume
  • If I do drugs, smoke or consume alcohol
  • What I eat
  • How often I exercise
  • How I treat others
  • How I treat myself
  • Where I spend my free time
  • My belief in myself
  • How much I laugh
  • How much time I spend on my own pity parties
  • If I allow myself to get distracted from my goals
  • If I procrastinate or make excuses
  • If I take full responsibility for my life

There is much we can control! I am sure you can add to this list. Spend your time there. Stop worrying about those things you can’t control…including other people. Amen.

Balanced Checkup

Are You Staying in Balance?

Click here to take a look at an approach to staying balanced which can change your life…as it did mine.

Here’s to a better sense of balance, Don

PS Planning any fun/cool office parties for the holidays? Please do share!

Optimism – An Essay by Helen Keller (1903)

OptimismWhen looking at world news it is easy to get depressed about the future. More conflict, more environmental damage, widening disparities in wealth and opportunity.  Where is the good news?

Fact is, there is plenty of it if you look for it.

In 2009 I was searching for some inspiration I came across this wonderful essay by Helen Keller. And, it was just the right medicine. Deaf, dumb and blind…and still an optimist! After reading it I was reminded I have no real problems, only a bruised ego now and again. And I’ve read this every year since…so I don’t forget it!

So, time to dust ourselves off, stop any whining, get excited and do something about it!

What follows are some of my favorite quotes from the essay with a few comments thrown in:


  • Once I knew the depth where no hope was, and darkness lay on the face of all things. Then love came and set my soul free. (We could stop right there!)
  • It is a mistake always to contemplate the good and ignore the evil, because by making people neglectful it lets in disaster. There is a dangerous optimism of ignorance and indifference. (Being an optimist doesn’t mean taking foolish risks.)
  • I can say with conviction that the struggle which evil necessitates is one of the greatest blessings. It makes us strong, patient, helpful men and women.
  • I proclaim the world good, and facts range themselves to prove my proclamation overwhelmingly true.
  • Doubt and mistrust are the mere panic of timid imagination, which the steadfast heart will conquer, and the large mind transcend. (I love it…“timid” imagination”)
  • The desire and will to work is optimism itself. (And those who can’t or won’t are easily dis-contented)
  • Up, up! Whatsoever the hand findeth to do, do it with thy whole might. (Quoting Carlyle.)
  • I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble.
  • He (referring to the philosopher Spinoza) loved the good for its own sake. Like many great spirits he accepted his place in the world, and confided himself childlike to a higher power, believing that it worked through his hands and predominated in his being. He trusted implicitly, and that is what I do. Deep, solemn optimism, it seems to me, should spring from this firm belief in the presence of God in the individual; not a remote, unapproachable governor of the universe, but a God who is very near every one of use, who is present not only in earth, sea and sky, but also in every pure and noble impulse of our hearts, “the source and center of all minds, their point of rest.”
  • Though with my hand I grasp only a small part of the universe, with my spirit I see the whole, and in my thought I can compass the beneficent laws by which it is governed. (She was very “New Age”)
  • Rome, too, left the world a rich inheritance. Through the vicissitudes of history her laws and ordered government have stood a majestic object-lesson for the ages. But when the stern, frugal character of her people ceased to be the bone and sinew of her civilization, Rome fell. (A lesson for all Americans and their weak politicians.)
  • The highest result of education is tolerance….Tolerance is the finest principle of community; it is the spirit which conserves the best that all men think.
  • To be an American is to be an optimist. (At least it was in 1903.)
  • Since I consider it a duty to myself and to others to be happy, I escape a misery worse than any physical deprivation.
  • The optimist cannot fall back, cannot falter; for he knows his neighbor will be hindered by his failure to keep in line. (Our life is not our own)
  • No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.
  • Thus the optimist believes, attempts, achieves. He stands always in the sunlight. Some day the wonderful, the inexpressible, arrives and shines upon him, and he is there to welcome it. His soul meets his own and beats a glad march to every new discovery, every fresh victory over difficulties, every addition to human knowledge and happiness.
  • Shakespeare is the prince of optimists.
  • Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement; nothing can be done without hope.
  • If you are born blind, search the treasures of darkness. (My favorite quote.)
  • Christmas Day is the festival of optimism.
  • Optimism is the harmony between man’s spirit and the spirit of God pronouncing His works good.


If it were my company or household I would make sure everybody reads this essay. You can download it for free by going to http://www.archive.org/details/optimismessay00kelliala

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and Optimistic New Year,

don phin

Don Phin, (an eternal optimist!)