Esprit de Core

Posted On: 2/10/2014

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TAGS: Vending Times, Vending Times editorial, vending industry, coin-op, vending machine, coin machine business, office coffee service, Alicia Lavay, core business values, information is not knowledge, Howard Schultz, Starbucks, transparency in business

Alicia Lavay, vending

Last month, I spoke about looking for ways to improve your business while staying true to its core values. But what defines those values? Each of us will have different ones, but it's hard to assess your company's core values if your own are unclear.

In this information age, it's easy for people to think they know everything. This is dangerous: information is not knowledge, and it's essential to realize how much we don't know. Not all core values are positive; some are formed by egotism and greed. I've seen many businesses compromise ethics (and long-term potential) for a quick profit. If we want our businesses to be viable, it's essential to listen to one another and look out for everyone's best interests. Not just our customers, but our employees -- and even our competitors.

This may sound counterintuitive, but sensible operators always have recognized it. We can't ignore what's happening in the industry and the world around us. The nature of the "corporation" (or the mom-and-pop business) and the future of our country are related.

Howard Schultz, Starbucks chief executive and author of the best-seller Onward: How Starbucks Fought For Its Life Without Losing Its Soul, has said "It's not always what you do, but why you do it." According to Schultz, a business must exceed expectations if it's to be truly successful. But in order to do that, you must have a purpose beyond making a profit; you can't build something exceptional if you don't take it personally. And when you take it personally, others will notice and be inspired to fight for its future, too.

Short-term success doesn't build long-term values. As a leader, there are times when you need to share yourself with people and show them who you are. If you tell the truth and do things the right way, others will want to follow you; not because you are pushing them to do so, but because they believe that aligning with you is valuable to them. And anyone in the company who doesn't share that right-way mindset shouldn't be on your team.

Much like personal core values, a company's core values are there to guide behavior and choice. Some of the smartest people I know consciously or unconsciously use personal core values to select friendships, relationships and business partnerships. I've found that core values help me keep true to myself and, as a result, better able to manage personal resources including time and money. They also help me condition the culture in which I live.

If you are not true to yourself and don't march to the beat of your own drum, your tribe will never find you. For example, I function best when I can be candid. There is an old Spanish proverb (or perhaps a Mark Twain quote) to the effect that "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything." I naturally gravitate towards like-minded people and try to create this same atmosphere of transparency and open communication so employees and other friends feel comfortable expressing themselves.

Transparency is not only a guiding principle for me, but a core value for Vending Times. Truth is necessary for professional journalism, and since people pay attention to what we report, credibility and integrity are critical guiding principles of our corporate culture. But while some companies might expressly publish their core values or mission statement, the best way to display these values is to act and behave accordingly. A core value is only authentic if the company's people manage to live by it, at least most of the time.

Returning to Howard Schultz: in 2008, he made the unusual decision to return as CEO, eight years after stepping down from the top executive post to become chairman. In Onward, he tells the story of how he brought Starbucks back from what he saw as a spiritual crisis. He was determined to guide it back to its core values and restore not only its financial health, but also its soul: to do one, he had to do the other.

The author emphasizes the need to maintain a balance between profitability and personality. "Success is not sustainable," he wrote. "The challenge is to grow, yet remain small and maintain a sense of intimacy with your customers." He has explained that his father had been permanently disabled on the job, without health insurance, in the days before workers' compensation laws. That formative experience made him determined to build the company that his father had not had the opportunity to work for.

In the spirit of transparency, I'll disclose that I recently learned more about Howard Schultz from an interview with Oprah Winfrey on her OWN Channel's "Super Soul Sunday." I was so inspired by his views that I felt compelled to share them with our readers. And Schultz is in good company; McDonald's legendary Ray Kroc said, "If you work just for money, you'll never make it, but if you love what you're doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours."