A couple weeks ago, CVS, the largest pharmacy chain in United States made headlines when they announced that, effective October 2014, they would no longer be selling tobacco products in order to better position themselves as a health-care provider. Not surprisingly, this made headline news, with many lauding this move. A close friend and I began emailing about it, and quickly learned we had different reactions to this decision, and what it might mean for CVS, its customers, and its stakeholders going forward.

CVSWe’ll let you eavesdrop on our conversation. Below are my comments in blue, and my friend’s in red. We would love to hear your reactions, and how you would’ve chimed in, had you been in the original thread!

Me: My first reaction was to be impressed that CVS was willing to sacrifice profits for a strongly held value.

 However, my second reaction was to note a certain irony. Will they apply their new logic for determining what to sell and not sell to other products, too? For example, are they going to stop selling candy products? After all diabetes and obesity are two of the major health issues facing the nation, maybe even more than tobacco related diseases?

I think what struck me as a bit off-putting was how CVS publicly explained their position, sort of cloaking themselves in a halo of self-righteousness and how self-evident it was that they should drop the sale of tobacco.

 I’d have found it more compelling and authentic if they acknowledged it took them hours of intensive internal debate before coming to this decision, balancing their own vision for the kind of company they want to become with various stakeholder interests. After all, they are stopping the sale of a completely legal product, which raises some valid moral arguments. What will the owners have to say about lopping off $2 billion of sales?smoking

 Part of me wants to applaud the guts it took to make this decision, but I have to make a couple observations. The hard work is now really starting, as the rationale they applied to not selling cigarettes logically will need to be applied to other non-healthy products they sell. How are they going to handle that? Secondly, their PR people may have done them a disservice, setting them up for later ridicule as they try to explain why selling junk food, is actually aligned with their strategy of being in the health business. As today’s applause by health and other social activists fades, I suspect it won’t take long before they have to deal with the charge of hypocrisy be a new collection of social activists and health advocates. As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished…

Friend: I agree that, sadly, obesity related deaths will continue to grow and will likely surpass ones that are tobacco related deaths in the future. But, we have to acknowledge that while diet and obesity are often closely related but not the same thing. Obviously we should eat healthy foods, but if no one in America changed their workout-partners-bikesdiet but everyone started exercising vigorously for 30-40 minutes a day (or more realistically several times a week) obesity related deaths would plummet. I realize there are reasons why people aren’t able to this, some are valid reasons but, in my opinion, many are not. In the end, it comes down to personal responsibility not the responsibility of CVS. According to a recent Harvard study almost half of the obesity deaths have to do with lack of exercise. One could even go so far as to argue that sugar, fat and sodium at least have a place in our diet, just not to excess. I don’t know of any health/medical uses for tobacco.

 While CVS is cutting $2 billion a year in tobacco related sales, from my reading, tobacco is a pretty low margin product. So, tobacco sales actually are a very small percentage of their net profit. It is estimated that there will be 6 to 9 cent impact on share price in the short-term. CVS will likely replace tobacco with higher margin health and beauty products. Target, also publicly traded, stopped selling cigarettes back in 1996 citing costs. I don’t think shareholders believe tobacco sales are essential to the success of the company.

 More importantly, after some more reading, it seems that the real reason may be that CVS is betting that dropping tobacco products will “help them strike more profitable deals with hospitals and health insurers — and appeal to growing ranks of customers newly insured under the Affordable Care Act. In recent years they have continued to develop their MinuteClincs. CVS is positioning itself to be the first Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant resident clinical care alternative (on every corner) to the traditional MD’s office or urgent care centers. The removal of tobacco products is a requirement for eligibility to participate as a health care facility under ACA[i].” So, for a stakeholder, especially a longer-term stakeholder, I can see how the announcement could be viewed as positive news for the company.

 I don’t agree that CVS needs to apply the same logic to other products they sell. Sure, it may seem more consistent food aislebut I don’t think it is necessary. For example, just because an auto company says they are building an electric car to help reduce carbon emissions they don’t logically need to stop making large internal combustion engines.

This may be a situation where doing the “right thing” in terms of the tobacco sales also happens to be very profitable, especially if their goal is to continue to develop their MinuteClinics and become eligible to receive patients insured under the Affordable Care Act, as well as work with other health care networks.  Instead of just saying they are dropping cigarettes because it’s not very profitable (like Target did) and that tobacco precludes them from serving ACA participants, the approach their PR team took allows them seize an opportunity to take a stand against an already universally recognized “evil”.  Additionally, I suspect their PR approach will do more to strengthen their “health” brand than it will to draw charges of hypocrisy. There will be some people who point out the inconsistencies, but I don’t see CVS backtracking to appease those people by pulling all junk food off the shelves.


What do you think? Please share below.

Ebbs and Flows

As I study and sometimes even swim in the waters of the faith and work movement, I’ve come to realize that media interest in the subject of faith at work tends to ebb and flow.  Weeks can go by with little media inquiry, and then out of the blue, the phone rings off the hook.ebb and flow

Often times the flows are event-driven, e.g. Pope Francis’ recent teaching on the economy, another workplace scandal when people ask “why did he do that?”, or stories about companies who hire workplace chaplains to help employees handle the stress of work and life’s ups and downs.

Other times the flows seem to be merely coincidental with no rhyme or reason. A few days ago I had a one of the latter when three media outlets contacted me all in the same day, wanting to discuss my book, God at Work, the development of The Integration Box, and the faith and work movement at large.  Go figure!

Anyway, if you’re interested to read or listen to the pieces, please see below for the links. One was a radio interview with NPR. Another was an interview by the main Sunday paper in Switzerland. And the final one was an interview for an article in the Tulsa World newspaper.

Please comment below, I would love to hear about the state of faith in your workplace. Is it ebbing or flowing?

Over the weekend, I wrote a brief reflection on Labor Day, entitled “Working on Labor Day?”  For those of you returning to work today, I hope you enjoy it, and that it gives you pause to appreciate the gift of having work:

Today, it seems that most people in the USA view Labor Day as a nice three-day weekend that marks the transition from summer to fall. For some, it signals the start of the laborcollegiate and professional football season. For others, it reminds them that year-end business targets are closing in and the pace of work picks up. And a few still pause on Labor Day to remember its history; how it was spawned by labor movement struggles in the later 1800s, offering one day a year of paid holiday from work.

The early roots and rationale of Labor Day seem somehow removed from the modern American work experience. Sure, many still labor at menial jobs with minimal pay, but many of those same people would leap at the chance to work on Labor Day and earn overtime. Moreover, many of the nation’s 11.5 million unemployed citizens would do anything just to have a job again… And this includes white collar workers and knowledge workers, too. They all want to experience afresh the pride that comes with putting food on the table for one’s family. The dignity that comes from paying bills on time instead of being in arrears with one’s landlord, the bank, and other creditors. And they want, as Peggy Noonan writes, to restore their soul through the spiritual nature of work. Without work, our souls suffer. There is a spiritual dimension to work that we often don’t notice until we are robbed of it. Noonan develops this theme wonderfully in the first half of her Labor Day 2013 essay, just published in the Wall Street Journal.

In that same vein, I think of the word Avodah. Many of you will know of TheBowery-Bread-Line Avodah Institute that Bill Pollard and I co-founded in 1999. Avodah is a Hebrew word. Its root and semantic domain can mean three different yet related things. Avodah means to work, as in to labor at a job. Avodah also means to serve, as in to serve one’s neighbor. And finally, Avodah means to worship, as in to worship God. In Biblical Hebrew we see all three of threes meanings of Avodah utilized throughout the Old Testament. And the three meanings continue today in modern Hebrew. The conclusion?

Work may be hard and by the sweat of our brow (Genesis 3:19). But rightly framed, our work can also be a form of worship, a way of honoring God and serving our neighbor.

This Labor Day and beyond, I hope that you can find and fulfill your Avodah.

What do you think about work having a spiritual dimension?

Recently, Wendy Murphy, Managing Partner at RSR Partners, a leading executive search firm and I hosted a small dinner gathering of several influential Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) from various well-known companies.   The dinner provided an open forum discussion and exploration with Wendy, fellow CHROs, and myself into into the integration of faith in the worDinner pickplace.  Early in the conversation, consensus was reached that dynamics are changing quickly in the global marketplace and many of the old frameworks used to understand, attract, and retain employees may no longer be sufficient.  Companies that have realized this have found or are seeking ways to engage and motivate employees, often appealing to their sense of meaning and purpose.  On the subject, one attendee, an HR executive from a top Fortune 100 company, said of her organization, “we recognized that process alone does not equal success; relationships are also an important element.”

According to the World Factbook, nearly 85 to 90% of people worldwide claim to belong to a faith or religious tradition. So, engaging an employee’s sense of meaning and purpose at work now might mean cultivating a faith-friendly work environment as the millennial generation and their elders increasingly seek to bring their whole selves to work.

The dinner conversation produced a fruitful and stimulating discussion about some practical benefits and possibilities of a faith-friendly work environment.  The general sentiment was that, properly implemented, a work environment that embraces the spiritual side of employees – which is consistent with best HR practice today that accentuates holistic thinking – could be beneficial to both employers and employees. However, many companies do not unChurchderstand the issues, lack policies that address faith in the workplace, and are led by executives who have not recognized workplace spirituality as an important new dimension of modern business. Or, CEOs and CHROs recognize the potential value, but do not treat it not as a priority in the same way they focus on initiatives and programs to support the ethnic, gender, racial, physical, mental, and emotional aspects of employees.

Many questions discussed by the CHROs over dinner related to how to appropriately start the “faith” conversation with the CEO. A few possible options came out of the conversation. One person suggested the idea of bringing up faith at work in the context of what type of legacy the CEO wants to leave.   Another suggested bringing up faith and work in the context of an external coaching session, where outside thought leaders can engage and challenge CEOs to think outside of normal paradigms. Attendees also recognized there is often a sense of the loneliness for many leaders at the top of an organization and it is possible that giving them permission to draw on their faith as a resource could be helpful.Tokyo train

In addition to brainstorming ways to raise the subject of workplace spirituality with CEOs, the dinner attendees also discussed some strategies regarding how to engage the employees in a “bottom-up” approach. One attendee, an HR executive of a major energy company, spoke about some work her company is doing in the development of their diversity and inclusion (D&I) program with an appreciation for the value of meaningful action. The conversation spurred her to think about how faith-friendly policies would fit within their D&I programs, especially as a means to help companies strive to meet goals related to employee well-being, reduced legal liability, and better talent recruitment and retention.

Other subjects that were important to the CHROs in the discussion were questions that revolved around identifying what faith at work meant for their particular company.  More specifically, “how can a CEO or CHRO seek to create a faith-friendly environment that operates within the parameters of the company culture without overreaching?”   There was strong interest in learning how to create a faith-friendly company environment that explores issues of faith without offending others, especially those of minority traditions, feeling as if they are being judged.

In addition to the organizational level considerations a few attendees shared some anecdotes about how their own personal faith has played a transformative role in their leadership development.  One attendee spoke about how his personal faith influences his interaction with colleagues; with his faith acting as a major motivator to his daily commitment to help connect with individual employees and help them develop personally and professionally.

Other topics that were discussed included: how to handle stereotypes about different religions;  the relationship between the self-awareness of management /employees and the businessmen reflectionsuccess of faith-friendly programs; what role gender and gender orientation may play in terms of workplace spirituality; as well as what “language” to use to talk about faith in the workplace.  Attendees shared their experiences of occasionally struggling to find the appropriate words to use when talking about faith or spirituality at work, and the need to often create a public “language” for talking about faith that may differ from the “language” that is traditionally used by a particular religious community.

Lastly, attendees were interested in knowing how they could measure the impact of faith-friendly policies at their companies. As one possible solution, I offered The Integration Box (TIB) assessment tool for consideration. The TIB, new psychometric scale I have developed with my colleagues Tim Ewest and Jonathan Lea,  is a vehicle to help individuals and employers identify ways people manifest their faith at work. The TIB was discussed and recognized as one possible measuring tool to help shape policy and practices. Some of the attendees expressed interest in becoming test sites for the TIB.

All of the attendees left with a heightened interest in understanding more about workplace spirituality, and what a faith-friendly environment might look like in their respective companies. While each person had varying levels of personal interest in the subject, all felt it as professionals that this was a timely and important topic to learn more about, discuss further, and consider as part of their talent, diversity and inclusion, and well-being HR strategy.

If you or your company is interested in receiving updates about the TIB and creating a faith-friendly work environment at your company please feel free to contact me (dwm@princeton.edu) or Jonathan Lea (jlea@princeton.edu) for more information.

A few weeks ago, I blogged on how the public responds to our “heroes” when they fall from grace. Many examples exist to make the point – Tiger Woods, General Petraeus, Michael Vick,  and, of course, Lance Armstrong. Since then, Lance, who for years has vehemently Lance Armstrong & John Korioth in the 2008 Tour De Gruene Team Tproclaimed his innocence, finally went to the high priest of secular confession, Oprah Winfrey, and before a worldwide audience confessed to doping, lying, and bullying those who had dared to tell the truth about him.

The dust is still settling, and one senses the full truth is not yet out. The public is still making up its mind about Lance. Many argue he still doesn’t “get it”, and views himself simply as one of many who cheated by doping. A few days ago, he reiterated his feelings of being cycling’s “fall guy,” and called for amnesty for cyclists who have doped. It’s almost as if we should feel sorry for him, as if he were the victim, not the perpetrator.

How do we take these new comments in relation to his “confession” to Oprah?

The saying goes that “confession is good for the soul.” Of course, confession in a reThomas_Aquinas_in_Stained_Glassligious sense, specifically within a Catholic sense, is a very serious rite and has a long tradition. St. Thomas Aquinas, an advocate of confession, noted it was only one of three necessary steps in the process of penance.  In his Catechism he says:

“Three things must be present in the Sacrament of Penance: contrition, which is sorrow for sin together with a resolution not to sin again; confession of sins, as far as possible; and satisfaction, which is accomplished by good works.”

Whether one is Catholic or not, if we use Aquinas’ teaching as a model for confession and forgiveness, where does that leave Lance? Did his mea culpa pass muster? Did we see genuine contrition and sorrow, and a resolve not to lie, cheat, or hurt others again? Did he come fully clean, confessing all his wrongdoings? And is he on a path to make right his wrongs by related good deeds and actions?

Clearly, a big step has been taken but one senses there is a need for more… what do you think?

“It was a punch in the gut for those of us who know him.” These words could have been spoken about Lance Armstrong. Or about the CEO of Lockheed Martin who was dismissed by the Board for an inappropriate relationship with an employee. Or the person next to you on the train to work, or in the aisle across from you in church or maybe even the person we see in the mirror.  As it happens, these words are the reaction of West Point professor, Col. Michael J. Meese upon hearing of General Petraeus’ admission of an affair.

Some of us have that same punch-in-the-gut feeling about Lance Armstrong – cancer survivor, iconic Tour de France winner, and major philanthropist who served as a beacon of light and hope for millions. The life and legend of Lance Armstrong continues to unravel, the most recent humiliation coming from the board of Tufts University who rescinded the honorary doctorate they awarded Armstrong in 2006.

How are wePreston Kemp Photo to react when the mighty fall? And what does it mean for our view of their sponsorships and charities?  We who admire these larger-than-life figures from afar have feelings of disbelief, disappointment, and even disgust.

In the case of Armstrong, the rumors of his doping swirled for years, though proof was never found. But this fall, the United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) published a lengthy and damning report, banning him for life from any event it presides over. Armstrong’s denials were less defiant than usual and rang hollow.  The French Cycling Union has stripped Armstrong of his much-coveted and record-breaking seven Tour de France titles; corporate sponsors and advertisers dropped him with alacrity; and even the charity which bears his own name, Livestrong, eventually severed all ties to him.

If we only knew him as Lance Armstrong, cyclist, the discovery of his systematic cheating would’ve been in the news cycle for a couple days, and had little impact on those outside the cycling community. Yet we also know Lance Armstrong, as a cancer survivor, role model, and philanthropist. Indeed, many of us were drawn to Armstrong, and watched his Tour de France victories, precisely because of his incredible story of survival, and the Livestrong campaign, with the ubiquitous yellow wristbands.  It is hard to hate someone who has also accomplished so much good. And yet, he has cheated on one of the grandest of sports stages and over many years.  Can we still be a fan? Can we still be a supporter? So which Lance (if any) do we embrace? Which Lance (if any) do we erase?

Despite the unveiling of his ethical failures, many people still want to follow and support Lance the cyclist or Lance the philanthropist, but are troubled by learning about Lance the cheater.  Notably, contribution levels to Livestrong  have not been negatively impacted by the scandal.

Recently, some academics who specialize in product branding, have studied how fans and consumers respond to celebrities and other public figures who are discovered to have a “dark side,Needle_Spike” secretly living a life of vice and dishonesty.

In order to stay a fan and supporter, researchers used to think that consumers would morally rationalize the celebrity’s transgressions, downplaying it in light of the good they do.  Yet recently, some academics have put forward a new idea to explain how consumers can “hate the sin but love the sinner”.

The concept is called “moral decoupling,” and is different than “moral rationalization” (http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=3074). In moral decoupling, we detach morality from other things. The theory is that consumers can disassociate the moral indiscretions of a celebrity thus allowing us to still applaud our heroes and celebrities for the good they do. We acknowledge our moral outrage and do not seek to rationalize or explain away or excuse their misbehavior. Instead, we isolate it as if it has no bearing on the person’s role, thereby allowing us to still support the public figure.

Philanthropy is seldom a purely rational decision divorced of emotional attachment. If anything, our gifts are usually motivated not just by the cause, but also by our relationship to a person or an organization associated with a cause. Many would not have supported Livestrong had its founder and spokesperson not been a cycling phenom. Perhaps it was the decoupling between different areas of Armstrong’s own life that led to his own breach in the first place.

So where do we go from here? One of the inevitabilities of life is that heroes, celebrities, and even orgaLance_Armstrong_Tour_de_Gruene_2008-11-01nizations often let us down.  Madison Avenue’s compellingly  crafted images become hard to maintain in the face of our human shortcomings.

And, of course, like many human behaviors this is not a new phenomenon, linked purely to modern media and mass marketing. Remember the biblical figure, King David? This was a man who the Bible describes as being a “man after God’s own heart” and for whose sake, God is said to have acted favorably towards his descendants for generations. And yet, even this iconic figure in Hebrew tradition had ethical and moral failings of the deepest nature; he had an affair with the wife of one of his loyal lieutenants, and orchestrated the man’s murder to hide his own misdeeds. David eventually repented of his crimes and character flaws.  God forgave him and David rebuilt his life and leadership.

We may not be as fast a cyclist as Lance Armstrong, or as brilliant a general as King David or David Petraeus.  And yet, as athletes and generals, scholars and students, CEOs and secretaries, parents and pastors, we share in their accomplishments and failings. Is it possible that we can reduce the moral rationalizing and moral decoupling in our own lives and behaviors? And thereby, avoid giving those around us a punch in the gut…

What do you think?

Credit: Isaac Wedin

This time of year, I often think of having friends over for a nice barbeque in the backyard; a chance to visit and discuss current events while enjoying mouthwatering barbeque chicken, delicious New Jersey corn, and farm-ripe tomatoes.

Over the past ten days or so, many conversations with business friends of mine have included chicken, but not my backyard barbeque version. They all are curious what I think of the big kerfuffle going on about Chick-fil-A. News outlets all over the world are still feasting on this story. It has generated feature articles and Op-Ed pieces by some of the world’s most respected newspapers, magazines, television, and radio stations, including The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Economist, BusinessWeek, the Times of India, CNN, NBC, NPR,  the BBC, and even Al Jazeera.

Well, I was also just asked by Harvard Business Review to join in and offer a view, a different view than the other stories I’ve read. Check out the HBR blog (blogs.hbr.org) if you’re interested, and let me know your thoughts.

Thanks, and bon appétit!