CVS Drops Tobacco, Demonstrates Purposeful Leadership

CVS/Caremark announced that it will stop selling tobacco products. According to Larry Merlo, CEO of CVS:

We have about 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners helping patients manage chronic problems like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease, all of which are linked to smoking. We came to the decision that cigarettes and providing health care just don’t go together in the same setting.

My take: Given the horrible affects of tobacco (I lost my sister, an active smoker, to cancer over 15 years ago), there’s certainly commentary to be made about how this affects the public at large. But that’s not what I want to discuss. Instead, I applaud CVS for behaving consistently with what we call Purposeful Leadership, which is one of Temkin Group’s four customer experience core competencies.

We describe Purposeful Leadership as operating consistently with a clear set of values. In a large organization, leaders influence only a very, very small portion of the day-to-day decisions of their employees. That’s why values are so important, they keep the myriad of things that people do every day collectively heading in the same direction.

While it’s easy to write up something you call values or even announce them at a company meeting, the measure of true values is that they jibe with the decisions that executives make. If leaders aren’t willing to forego short-term profits to advance their values, then they aren’t really values; they’re just bumper stickers. That’s why our last law of customer experience is simply, You can’t fake it.

Here’s how the CVS/Caremark’s About Us page describes its collection of operations: “Our businesses help people on their path to better health.” Selling products like tobacco that are known to have negative health effects is not consistent with that statement. Removing those products from CVS shelves make it much more believable, and an act this is consistent with Purposeful Leadership.

The bottom line: Congratulations to Merlo and the rest of CVS/Caremark leadership for being purposeful.

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