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How This Air Force Value Has Led My Company to $5.4 Million in Revenue Feel empowered to make the best choice and do what's right.

By Nicole Snow Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Ingolf Hatz | Getty Images

As a former officer in the United States Air Force, I will always hold the lessons and values that were instilled upon me close to my heart, and keep them present in how I live my life every day. One value I've always respected that was reinforced during my time in the Air Force is the concept of putting integrity first.

Related: The Importance of Integrity: Now More Than Ever

The Air Force describes this value as such: "An Airman is a person of integrity, courage and conviction. They must be willing to control their impulses and exercise courage, honesty and accountability in order to do what is right even when no one is looking."

The Air Force is an incredible example of a successful value-driven organization. I took this same values-first approach when starting my company, Darn Good Yarn -- specifically as it relates to integrity. I've made sure that I am leading by example and instilling integrity first values into every inch of our business. For example, in the early days, I'd order small quantities of recycled silk from localized suppliers overseas. As we grew, I could have switched to more traditional fulfillment channels and non-recycled products, allowing for cheaper large-scale production and shipment. I knew that if I did this, it would take the work away from local vendors who sourced environmentally responsible recycled product and paid employees higher wages. I decided to keep those localized suppliers and find more like them, instead of shifting to large-scale methods. This was a more expensive option, but I felt good about the choice and it was the right thing to do.

As we continued to grow, we would constantly have to be ordering new small batches from suppliers, since they were only able to make limited amounts at one time. I initially thought this would be a huge problem, but it has actually turned out to be a tremendous advantage for us. Our customers love the small shop feel we provide because we're constantly coming out with fresh inventory. It keeps them engaged with the brand and coming back for more, which has led to more sales.

I believe that an emphasis on integrity first values and doing the right thing has been the foundation for our success here at Darn Good Yarn -- the underlying "secret sauce" that has propelled the company to over 900 percent growth over the last three years.

Related: Do You Have a 'Never' List? How to Maintain Your Brand Integrity by Saying No.

So, how can you be more of an integrity-first company?

Lead with Integrity.

If you want your employees to practice better integrity and do the right thing when nobody's looking, you need to have this mentality and practice start at the top. As a CEO, the happiness of your employees, the environmental footprint of your company, the quality of your product or service and the positive value you provide to the world should all be ahead of making money on your priority list.

Henry Ford once said, "A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business." Success and integrity first values are joined at the hip, in my opinion. It was true then and is especially true now.

Success among business leaders with integrity first values is evident through companies that are thriving today. According to a recent workplace survey by People and Great Place to Work, companies that rated highest in leadership effectiveness had revenues five times higher than those who didn't.

Disengaged workers missed 37 percent more work days, suffered 49 percent more accidents and made 60 percent more errors, according to Gallup's 2017 State of the American Workplace report.

As you can see, it's clearly important that as a founder or CEO, you're completely present in your business and are constantly leading by example for your employees, customers and partners.

Related: Why Honesty and Integrity Really Do Matter

Empower employees.

According to a recent survey from the Society of Human Resource Management, "70 percent of employees ranked being empowered to take action at work when a problem or opportunity arose as an important element of their engagement."

At Darn Good Yarn, we have a product return rate of approximately 2 percent. This accomplishment can be attributed back to our integrity first mentality.

When employees are satisfied and operating with integrity, they are in the right mindset to make sure that only perfect products go out to our customers. Again, integrity comes back to doing the right thing when nobody's looking. The best way to achieve this with employees is to give them the power to make their own decisions.

If problems from customers arise, we do whatever it takes to make things right. We utilize a system of checks and balances on all customer service inquiries, allowing individuals to step up and fix a problem if they feel something isn't right at any point in the customer service process.

We also give employees the freedom to take on new projects they come up with (such as new ideas for Facebook Live content ideas), post new projects to our website, etc., all to drive empowerment.

Related: Transparency Can Make Life and Business Much Easier for Entrepreneurs

Source and build product responsibly.

Hard work, love and creativity are found in every Darn Good Yarn product. From the artisans in India and Nepal to our order fulfillment partnership with Albany ARC (a non-profit dedicated to providing employment for adults with developmental disabilities), Darn Good Yarn is fueled by the integrity first mantra that goes into all parts of our business.

As a startup, it's important to build an integrity-first product from the get-go. Your supply chain, sourcing of materials and international business relationships should all be carefully curated from the beginning and be what gives your product reliability and trust from an emotional and functional standpoint for consumers.

According to a 2015 Nielsen Survey of 30,000 consumers in 60 countries, 66 percent of respondents stated that they would be willing to pay extra money toward companies and products that they feel provide a more sustainable offering. Among Generation Z respondents, that number jumps to 72 percent, showing that this sentiment will only grow as we move into the future.

If at any point as a founder or employee of a company you feel that you're cutting a corner on a product or service, pause. Make sure that the choice doesn't have any negative implications on the environment, colleagues or customers. Feel empowered to make the best choice and do what's right!

Nicole Snow

Founder and CEO, Darn Good Yarn

Niocle Snow is the founder and CEO of Darn Good Yarn, a lifestyle brand that sells yarn, clothing and home decor. As a wife, mom and founder, Snow considers herself the "Jane of all trades." In 2008, she decided to create er business, centered around social consciousness through crafting and design.


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