It’s not a value if it doesn’t cost you something.
Most companies have values. They’re usually the kind you see on a poster or inscribed below a reflection pond or on a plaque overlooking a mountain vista: integrity, trust, honesty, teamwork. These are admirable values, ones all businesses should strive for. But if a business doesn’t put their values into action—if they don’t make good on the promises they make to their customers—they render themselves inauthentic and empty the values of their meaning.
When, on the other hand, a company uses their values as a filter for decision-making—and if the values are exercised and operationalized across the entire business—those values serve to build a brand for the long term. This commitment to values, however, isn’t easy. True values, the ones that actually serve your customers and your business, cost you something.
Take CVS and Zappos for example.
CVS’s tagline is “Health Is Everything.” In 2014, they made a decision to stop selling cigarettes at all of their 7,600 stores. They built an entire website dedicated to the announcement with a very clear and simple pronouncement: “This is the right thing to do.” The site goes on to say, “The sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose – helping people on their path to better health.”
This decision came at a cost, in revenue and in customers. But CVS made it clear: They are about health, and in a place committed to health, there is no room for the sale of cigarettes. End of story.
Zappos, the online shoe retailer, is known for their company culture. Employees live by 10 Zappos Family Core Values; the very first one is to “Deliver WOW Through Service.” This looks like paying shipping both ways, a 365-day return policy, and 24-hour access to sales representatives. And that’s just the beginning of their “insane” customer service principles, outlined in full by Business Insider: “Check Out The Insane Lengths Zappos Customer Service Reps Will Go To.”
Director of Customer Loyalty, Rob Siefker, says this about the Zappos free return policy:
Returns are part of our business model. In fact, we encourage customers to order multiple sizes if they’re unsure of what to order, and then they can return the size that doesn’t work for them. It’s really how you want to look at it, but providing this service is an investment we make in order to provide the best possible service for our customers.
Zappos’ customer service costs them something, but they invest in it because they know who they are.
Without clear core values, your team will be divided and less effective—which also erodes at unity and vision. One person usually becomes the bottleneck for decision-making. With clear values, you spread decision-making power to the edges, empowering more of your team to carry your business forward.
“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” ―Roy Disney
When you uncover and articulate your core values, however, you clarify your vision. You will know what to cut and what to keep. You have a written standard, a measuring stick, that everyone can use to challenge one another and make suggestions for improvements. There is no single arbiter for good decisions—everyone is empowered to drive the business forward, whether on they sit on the customer support team or in the C-suite.
Values don’t come out of a brainstorming session or from market research, they come out of your core conviction—out of your belief. It is your belief that is your first and strongest differentiation in the market. It’s your belief that drives your values, and your values that drive your actions. You can’t manufacture values without consequence, but when you can uncover those authentic values that govern your business, you start to build a brand that can withstand the test of time. When you know your values, write them down. Codify them. Paint them on the wall. And know this: if you keep your values at the center of your organization, they will cost you something. But when you remain true to your convictions, you’ll attract the right people for the long term.