Monday, August 22, 2016

Keep it to Your Shelf: Opinions and Business

“Don't have any opinions. They're bad for business.”
                                     -Jerome Lawrence,
Inherit the Wind

Opinions and Business

There’s a saying that says, “opinions are like armpits: everyone’s got ‘em, and they all stink.” In a way, this is very accurate.

I had a friend who had a subscription to Angie’s List, which is a website that allows users to find specialists in all sorts of fields, from babysitters to plumbers to handymen, etc. He was a loyal customer for several years, until Angie’s List decided to take a stance on some political issues, including threatening to move their corporate offices out of state. My friend immediately canceled his account, citing that a company like Angie’s List had no business getting involved in politics.

Now, many companies issue statements and endorsements for political issues and candidates, so why was Angie’s List’s stance (which was covered by media outlets extensively) such an issue?

Well, it boils down to a failure by Angie’s List to properly communicate their company values. If Chick Fil-A had taken a political stance, it would not come as a surprise, as they are a Christian value-based company, and they align themselves with the Conservative movement. Hobby Lobby and Home Depot are others that have made public statements that have only alienated the few people who were not familiar with their company values.

There are instances when you, as the business owner, may make statements on behalf of your company, and those statements may be controversial, because the opinion is either not aligned with your company values or it is not addressed in that list of values. For example, your opinion may be that people who drink coffee are just as bad as people who smoke crack cocaine. This is a pretty controversial stance, and it can certainly alienate much of the world’s population. Even if you clarify that this is your opinion and not the company’s, the damage may have already been done.

So how can you avoid your opinions being meshed with those of the company? It all boils down to context. Barring concerns of mixing up your personal opinions and those of the company, your personal life should be completely separate from your company. What this means is that your personal email address should be different from your company’s; so should your social media accounts; If you are at work, in uniform, or speaking to clients, suppliers, etc., then you should act just like any other employee of the company. And this is true if you and your employees are in uniform even OUTSIDE of work.

Remember that if your goal is to simply have your company be your job, like many landscapers or doctors, lawyers, writers, etc., then it’s ok to have your accounts and statements be intertwined with those of your company. But if your goal is to be a true entrepreneur, and you hope to grow your business into a large corporation, you need to act like it from the go. Think of your company as a politician running for office; you will have a stance on issues that align with your values, but anything that can cost you the election should be off limits in conversation or other communications.

If you have any comments, questions, or want to lay all your controversial opinions on me as a way to vent (I promise not to share them with anyone else), please leave a comment or email me at

Monday, August 8, 2016

Value Meals and Company Values

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave them all over everything you do.”
-Elvis Presley

Define Your Company values

Recently I was driving around with my family on a Sunday, on our way to the park, when we thought, “Hey, we’ve never eaten at Chick Fil-A; why don’t we grab food there to take to the park?”
Unfortunately for us, Chick Fil-A doesn’t open on Sundays – they never have, and probably never will. This is part of their company values, much like southern supermarket chain Publix closes every major holiday (like Thanksgiving) to give their employees time to spend with their families – all at the expense of their own bottom line.  

Now, if you’ve been reading my blog, you know I’m a huge proponent of fattening the bottom line as a sign of success in business; however, I am also a big proponent of ensuring your company is not a robotic profit machine. In the end, it is humans who keep the company alive, and humans who can end its run. So, a company must have clearly defined values that will aid it in times of controversy, times of financial famine, and times of crisis. These values can serve as a company’s competitive advantage (which we’ll discuss in more detail in a future post).

I recently tried to rent a car at an airport and ran into a very common occurrence – the rep who was checking me into the car tried to scare me into buying the supplemental insurance. I’ve worked in the rental car industry before, so I know how this works, and as a test I told the girl “just give me the basic insurance.”

What many people don’t know about the rental car industry is that there are usually three insurance products offered, but most people will really only benefit from one – the damage waiver, or collision damage waiver. The other two are usually liability protection (which most people already have with $0 deductible through their own insurance), and personal injury protection. However, when a customer says “I’d like the basic insurance”, many of the reps, being hungry sales people, have turned semantics into a cash cow. You see, “basic insurance” to one person may mean “Damage Waiver and Injury Protection”, while to another it may mean “just Damage Waiver”.

This girl tried to slam me with both Damage Waiver and Personal Injury Protection. I called their corporate office later to report the behavior, and they assured me they would address the issue. However, I know their reply to me was simply a formality, as it is part of their company culture to try to maximize profitability from every rental, at any cost.

So why should this matter to you or your company? As in the case of the rental car company, many businesses turn a blind eye to behaviors from their employees – at every level, from front-line to upper management employees – and the behavior becomes one of the values of the company, albeit an unofficial one. If this happens within your company, customers and the public will judge you and your conglomerate by this behavior. This is not a good thing, because a customer who feels they have no choice but to “grin and bear” the circumstances they see as unscrupulous will jump ship and swim to the competition as soon as the competition’s engine is within earshot.

Now - what if your employees can name McDonald’s Value Meals quicker than they can name your company values? What can you do to define your values and ensure your employees abide by them? 

  • First, your company needs to create a list of values. This list must be easy to read and understand, and it must be prominently displayed so all employees can see it at all times.

  • Your values must be enforced. Punishment is never as effective as positive or negative reinforcement, so instead, try to reward employees who live by these values. Whether it is monthly with honorable mentions via mass email or in a newsletter, or even daily with a program like Kudos Points (, these rewards serve to reinforce what your company feels is appropriate behavior.

  • Do not waver. Like Chick Fil-A, sticking to your values, even if it means fewer profits, will eventually translate into more success. Chick Fil-A has received a lot of publicity as a result of their Sunday policy, as well as their religious agenda, and it has actually helped the company grow. This is not to mean that you should inject your religious beliefs into your company, but rather create an environment and value system, and even a company culture that customers become familiar with, so that even if you sell your company or go public, the new leadership will not want to change these values, because they would be synonymous with your brand.

  • Make sure your employees know your company values. The easiest way to determine this? Ask your employees If they know them. If not, it’s time to make it a point to instill these values or reiterate them more frequently.

  • Make sure management understands and enforces your company values. If the preacher doesn’t follow his own gospel, then why should the parishioners?

With these five simple steps, your company should have a very solid base of values by which it operates. Companies that do not have a strong set of values usually pay the price in the end, whether it be because of lawsuits for unscrupulous behavior by employees or management, or simply by a loss of business from customers or clients. Values are the soul of a company, and just like a human can’t function in society without a soul, neither can a company.

If you have any comments, questions, or want some guidance with your values because you’re unscrupulicious, please leave a comment or email me at