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.

Written by 

I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about leading-edge XM topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

2 thoughts on “CVS Drops Tobacco, Demonstrates Purposeful Leadership”

  1. Bruce,
    I’m an avid reader of yours and really appreciate the way you share information and make it relevant to a broad audience.
    On this one though, I’m shaking my head a little bit… While I can appreciate the corporate decision by CVS to align their leadership philosophy and business practices, I do not understand the focus on tobacco alone. CVS also sells junk food, processed food, and various alcoholic beverages, in addition to cigarettes – all of which can “contribute to negative health effects”. Are they going to stop selling Ruffles, ice cream and beer too?

    Just my $.02.

    Thanks for listening!

    Lisette Reed
    Manager, Customer Experience & Voice of the Customer (VoC)
    Corporate Marketing – Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan
    Ofc: 313.448.0017 | Cell: 313.949.1911
    LReed@BCBSM.com

    Top 5 Strengths: Learner, Achiever, Individualization, Responsibility, Activator
    [Champion_Logo]

  2. I too applaud CVS. This news came at a rather poignant time for me. My father died of lung cancer on Tuesday, February 4. I like to think that maybe this news was a little push from him from above to help others suffering to quit smoking. He was always giving to others and I like to think that this announcement from CVS was one last gift from him to humanity. Way to go dad! As far as the other comment. Can we just celebrate the fact that this is a small step in the right direction. Eventually I think we will have more companies stepping up to sell less junk food and other products bad for our health. But I too celebrate that CVS had the courage to go out on a limb, turn down billions of dollars and take one step forward towards promoting a health conscious mission statement.
    Thank you CVS, you’ve earned a loyal customer for life.

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