I was intrigued by a recent story out of the USA that the nation's second-largest drugstore had announced that it will later this year stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in its 7,600 stores.
The move is likely to cost the company US$2 billion annually. In announcing the decision, CVS/Caremark's CEO said "Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy is simply the right thing to do for the good of our customers and our company…. The sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose – helping people on their path to better health."
While few of us will ever be making decisions of the scale involved in this case, the story brought to my mind the challenge that sometimes prevails in business between "doing the right thing" and doing what is profitable or otherwise in our self-interest.
I have over the years seen several examples of clients grappling with ethical challenges. Often in my experience, and as is suggested in the quote of CVS/Caremark's CEO, "doing the right thing" can come down to ensuring the decision is made within the context of the core purpose of the business. That is, reminding yourself at times such as these just what it is you/your business stands for.
Of course, this in turn highlights the importance of articulating a clear purpose and/or set of values that can guide the behaviour of leaders and others within the business. This is precisely why "Clear Vision and Strategy" is one of the foundation stones of our 8 Elements to Success Through People© Model.
Perhaps not by coincidence, the other foundation stone of the 8 Elements model is "Effective Leadership", which needless to say at times such as these requires courage and strength. Clearly, it can't be easy explaining to shareholders that you have signed off on a decision that will likely cost the business US$2b annually! That said, it's a decision that needed to be taken to remain true to the core purpose of the company.
I can't help but also think of the powerful cultural signal sent to staff and other stakeholders as a result of this decision: Our core purpose is critical, it's what we stand for and we won't let anything get in the way of achieving that purpose.
Whatever the scale of your business, and whatever moral dilemma you might face from time to time, you and your team will be well-served by having a clearly articulated and effectively communicated core purpose and values to guide you.