Recently, I stopped by the new Whole Foods in Lincoln Park here in Chicago. Immediately after stepping into the massive space, I was impressed by its ability to stay and feel fresh, and more like a marketplace that you might see in another country. Because it was so big, it contributed to a feel of open air. There were separate stalls or spread out all over the store that visitors could shop at. It felt a lot more like a series of little merchants: It would not surprise me if the same employees worked there at the little stalls, week after week and started developing a relationship with customers. I myself had a great discussion with a man who had a huge beard and looked like Rutherford B. Hayes. The employees that I talked to were all smiling, friendly, and incredibly approachable.
As I strolled through the store, and looked at the prices (I don’t normally shop at whole foods) I realize that shopping here would be extraordinarily pricey. And yet, I walked out with breakfast and an arm full of groceries.
This got me thinking about the benefits that are conferred to a company that does the “right” thing. Perception in the marketplace is incredibly important, any more, and companies cannot afford to have a tarnished reputation.
From Bob Sutton’s blog:
One interesting thing that happened while I was on vacation was the news that Wal-Mart is test-marketing imitations of the two best-selling Girl Scout cookies, Thin Mints and Tagalongs.
But when “everyday low prices” is the solution to every problem and — despite lip service to other constraints — almost nothing else drives your behavior even when it hurts you badly (as in this cookie caper), your core cultural values can hurt you badly.
My prediction is that they will come-up with some bullshit business reason to do so. If they were smart (and there is research on this, on how to deal with mistakes, which we talk about in Hard Facts and I touch on here and here) they would: 1. Confess it was a mistake, that they should have been more sensitive to the importance cookies to Girl Scouts; 2. Explain this episode has made them more sensitive to how pure business decisions need to be considered in light of community relationships and their corporate image; 3. Announce and take formal steps to show they have learned this lesson.
Apparently Walmart executives are not this bad typically. It’s interesting to me that good people can make terrible decisions sometimes. I wonder what the best way is to stop horrible decisions like this from happening in the first place.