Comment

EVERYTHING CAN CHANGE BUT YOUR CORE VALUES

Decades into its existence, through robust economies, recessions, wars, cultural shifts, competitive intrusion, and even the passing of its iconic leader, Apple continues to "make a dent in the universe."  While the world around it continues to revolve, the core values that were there at its birth remain intact.  It's why many have attempted to imitate but have never quite measured up.

Nonacceptance to the status quo, a founding value of the company, has enabled Apple to take risks that most organizations will never attempt.  In short, Apple has elevated purpose above profit--a core characteristic of living life in what I call the Values Economy.  Funny how profit seems to follow purpose. And Apple's purpose is clear.  As CEO Tim Cook sees it, "we're on the face of the earth to make great products."

Honestly, if I were to ask you what the real purpose of your company is, how would you answer? What would you say to your employees?  Are you wiling to risk short term gain for long term reward?  The ranks of disengaged employees is growing.  Why the disenchantment?  They are seeking purpose even above pay.  They are looking to align their loyalties with organizations that share their values.  Another charismatic CEO, Blake Mycoskie of Toms Shoes is on record as saying that "the greatest competitive advantage is to allow your employees to be part of something bigger than what you're doing." 

So what "dent in the universe" can your company make?  What's that something bigger for your employees to rally around?  Like Apple, challenge how things are done on a daily basis.  Upset the apple cart every now and then.  Commit to exploring your own values and take your employees along for the ride. Once you've established your belief system, never compromise or settle for less than your values demand.

Comment

BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE

The 7th annual Global Ethics Summit hosted by Ethisphere and Thomson Reuters brought together ethics and compliance experts from all over the country to talk about the state of ethics in corporate America. Center stage was a panel discussion including representatives from PepsiCo and Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance sharing their thoughts on the expanding role of corporate culture.  

One of my favorite quotes came from PepsiCo CEO Indra Noovi who is taking the company beyond traditional CSR toward a more powerful concept of values-based change.  During the discussion she said that "corporate social responsibility is how corporations can spend the money they make, but what she's trying to do is change the way we make the money we spend."

We have all become suspicious of corporations whose definition of CSR is simply writing a check to some deserving cause.  I'm not arguing that writing checks to deserving causes is wrong, I am suggesting that the tougher job is creating a corporate culture that operates from the value of conviction vs. compliance.  

Mark Roellig, VIce President and General Council at Mass Mutual stated that while following the law is integral to ethics and compliance it doesn't give a company great culture and values.  "You've really got to move beyond just saying, Yes, legally we can do this, You've got to step back and say, that's the right thing to do." A company can follow the letter of the law and still fail to act with integrity.

Is your company simply following the letter of the law?  Does is act out of expediency or are the decisions made those that follow the path of doing what's right regardless of consequences?  More and more companies are being called on to tackle issues that transcend the bottom line.  In many instances they have the privilege of peering outside their own corporate confines to positively impact the communities they serve. I couldn't agree more with Indra Noovi. It is time that we change the way we make the money we spend.  Set your sites past financial gain.  Go beyond what's simply required.  Watch employee engagement soar.  Sleep well knowing that there is purpose beyond profit.  Experience the life-affirming rush of the people your company serves as they repay your concern with their loyalty and trust.

LIVING OUT YOUR VALUES

It’s one thing to profess your values. It’s quite another to live them out. You know that old expression “Actions speak louder than words”? Well, it’s absolutely true. The process of living out your values in your personal life defines your character, often measured by what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

Living out your values in the boardroom defines your company’s culture. Applying the same measurement tool, what do you suppose your customers say about the culture of your brand when you’re not in the room? How about your employees?

When fully engaged, your corporate culture acts as the ‘protective covering’ that sets expectations of behavior and governs the ‘living out of the values’ that drive the purpose behind your organization. In today’s overly commoditized business environment, your belief system, or your brand’s values, represents the only true differentiator in the current ‘sea of sameness.’

Just as every individual has a unique character, each organization has a unique culture. Some corporate cultures empower and inspire while others dictate and debilitate. Then there are those organizations that fall somewhere in between—lukewarm and lacking vision. In my travels I’ve seen them all, and I can tell you with certainty that the common denominator of sustained success from brand to brand is the courage to profess and live out a guiding set of values that create purpose within an organization and earn loyalty from customers who experience a brand that walks the walk and talks the talk.

Does your company have a set of values that guides behavior and inspires purpose? Would you say that your company is living out its values? If you can answer unequivocally yes, then your company is well on its way to sustained loyalty and financial success. If your answer is no or ‘I don’t know,’ then it’s time to consider pursuing the role of ‘values change agent’ in your organization. If you’re in a leadership role, then initiate a values exploration. Shift the discussion from product development to values development. Then examine and tear down any organizational barriers that prevent your brand from living out its values. Your employees will thank you, your customers will notice the difference, and all of your business relationships will strengthen in the process.

THE DEATH OF THE USP

The Unique Selling Proposition.  For years marketers have been taught that by focusing on the unique differences between their products and those of their competitors they could cause consumers to beat a path to their door.  

Great concept if the choice is between you and one other competitor.   Great if you’re still living in the 1940s when USP hit the world of advertising.  That’s right.  The notion of USP can be traced back to a time when “commodity” was not part of the marketing lexicon.  Consumers weren’t faced with the dizzying array of choices they now face when they hit the supermarket aisle, the electronics retailer or any other overcrowded display of any number of products in any number of industries.  

The current “sea of sameness” did not exist when the choice was only vinegar or oil, ABC or NBC, Chevy or Ford.  As a result of same sounding claims from same sounding brands consumers are paralyzed when it comes to making decisions between products that, on the surface, all look like reasonable choices.  If you think your product can stand out in the crowd by virtue of some “not so unique” point of competitive difference try telling that to the pack of MP3 competitors who continue to chase the iPod.  You see, contrary to what you might hear,  Apple isn’t a product driven company.  Apple is a “belief” driven company.  Their products are manifestations of the promise Apple made to consumers years before the iPod was ever conceived.  Apple was “the computer for the rest of us.”  And it still is today.

The birth of UVP.

To truly stand out of the crowd today, your brand must stand for something meaningful—meaningful to the lives of consumers who now demand more than feature-filled products.  Consumers who reach out to brands that share their values.  The point is this—product attributes, no matter how compelling, cannot build a relationship with today’s consumer.  The most powerful method of building a lasting bond between brand and consumer is to discover and communicate your brand’s Unique Values Proposition.  Not a focus on what you make but rather a focus on what you believe.  

Your brand’s UVP is not only the most compelling way to communicate the “true” difference between you and the host of competitors vying for attention in your category, it also serves as a powerful rallying cry inside your company bringing a greater sense of purpose to your employees. Starbucks doesn’t merely sell coffee, it sells community.  Zappos doesn’t sell shoes, it sells happiness.  What truly sets your brand apart?  If the answer is “new and improved” success will continue to be illusive.  If the answer centers around your UVP you’re on your way to building sustained revenue and increased brand value.

ADVOCACY IN ACTION

CVS Pharmacy made a bold move by banning cigarettes from all their stores across the country.  In a statement, CVS President Larry Merlo was quoted as saying "the sale of cigarettes was contrary to CVS corporate values." The decision put at risk $2billion in annual revenue. Imagine the pride of employees who can go to work every day knowing that the company they work for values something greater than the pursuit of revenue. 

To their customers, taking a stand for values, for doing what’s right vs. what’s expected, clearly sends a signal that CVS truly cares about the health of those they serve.  In fact, the company has completely pivoted, transcending their old life as a common “drug store” and positioning themselves for the future as a health care advocate organization investing in “minute” clinics in-store, creating tobacco secession programs, and urging their customers to monitor their personal health.