Larry Merlo, the CEO of CVS, the pharmacy chain, announced that the company would stop selling all tobacco products by the fourth quarter of this year. While the $2 billion in revenue that product category represents is a very small percentage of their total revenues, nonetheless the decision was seen as a significant and unprecedented move. Merlo said that the decision was based on the kind of business and culture they are trying to create. “We came to the decision,” he said, “that cigarettes and providing health care just don’t go together in the same setting.”

We often see companies promote their vision and core values, telling their customers and other stakeholders what they stand for and what type of organization they strive to be. CVS’s move showed how to “walk the talk.” They looked at the words they communicated about supporting their customers’ health and recognized that how they carried out their business did not align with their words. Selling tobacco products did not meet the standards of the vision and values they purport to believe in.

Where do the practices and behaviors of your organization bump up against the vision and values you claim to uphold? What’s the bold move your organization can make to ensure that what you do aligns with what you say?

And as a leader, how can you do the same? First ask yourself: where are my words out of sync with my actions? Do I say that collaboration and teamwork are paramount but then offer incentives that encourage competition and territorial infighting? Do I promote work/life balance and flexibility in my speeches but then put barriers in place for employees who desire more flexible work arrangements, or send emails after hours, or allow managers to punish workers who have to periodically leave early for “home” priorities? Do I say that the organization needs strong and effective leaders but then fail to provide opportunities for employees to develop their leadership skills?

CVS has modelled what it means to be in line with words and actions. We often use a model called the Say/Do Matrix to illustrate the effects of misaligned words and actions on a team. The model highlights how taking action without communicating why you are doing it can create confusion and how communicating messages that do not align with the actions you are taking can lead to mistrust and frustration.

What steps can you take to bring your actions more closely in line with your words, as a leader and as an organization?
Please leave a comment.

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