We just returned from a weekend in Seattle. The weather was incredible - sunny! The experience was spectacular! And Starbucks was everywhere! That is not an exaggeration. Everywhere you turn a Starbucks is there to welcome you.
The original Starbucks store in Pike Place Market (opened in 1971) has not changed much over the years. The decor, coffee, staff and experience are much the same. However, the Starbucks Company has been going through some significant changes in the past few months. Driven mostly be a drop in stock values, the Board of Directors chose to put Founder and past-CEO, Howard Schultz back in the top leadership position. Howard is a leader with a passion; a passion for coffee, empowerment and community. Watch during the next few months and you'll see the changes unfold right there in your favorite Starbucks!
The most obvious shift you will see is a renewed focus on the basics – the basics that made Starbucks a household name and changed the way we “experience” coffee. It is no longer a tin can commodity it is a vital part of community. What basics will Starbucks CEO expect the company to embrace? Coffee expertise, consistency, employee empowerment and training, and the customer experience known as the “third place”. Schultz sees these things as non-negotiable. They are the essence of a relationship that he believes must be established with the employees, in order to enhance the relationship with the customer. As Becky Carrol stated in her blog, "Starbucks is putting its employees front and center in their effort to transform the customers experience."
We don't have to look far to understand what is driving this leader. Howard Schultz wrote in his book Pour Your Heart Into It (1997) the following:
"There is no more precious commodity than the relationship of trust and confidence a company has with its employees."
"The head of a company can't, and shouldn't always be the cheerleader. He has to be willing to let his people see the weaknesses and the pain, as long as they understand them in the context of the company's greater accomplishments.
When the chips are down, it's wrong to give a rah-rah Knute Rockne speech. People want guidance, not rhetoric. They need to know what the plan of action is, and how it will be implemented. They want to be given responsibility to help solve the problem and the authority to act on it."
These are great insights. It is easy to say, harder to implement. Vision is important for employees to understand, but it is equally vital that they be given an action plan and permission to pursue it. Great leadership recognizes when to talk, and when to deliver! Solutions are not always found in one more motivational talk, but in the opportunities of empowerment. (In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer you can read Howard's memo to the employees for more insight into his commitment to them and his openness to their input.)
Are you ready for this? Starbucks is getting ready to close the doors. On February 26, 2008 over 7,100 stores around the nation will intentionally lock the doors at 5:30 p.m. and cease operations. Don't panic, this is only for a few hours. The purpose: to train and revisit the basics as well as ideas for improvement. Will it result in a better cup of coffee? Probably, but more importantly it will create a better sense of responsibility and ownership among the employees for the experience you and I have on a daily basis.
Melissa Allison, reporter for the Seattle Times wrote in the February 12, 2008 edition:
In an interview last month, Schultz said he was committed to "reinvent and reinvest in training the likes of which we have not done."
"I think our people are the reason we've been successful," he said.
"The equity of the brand is based on the experience they create, and we want to unleash that creativity and that passion. They have it. We just have to give them the tools and the resources for it to come out."
Change is inevitable. Successful leaders create stability during times of change by helping everyone get focused on the essentials that make the company great.
The leader has a passion that is well-stated and well-worn through personal application.
Growth leaders in every industry know and build on the truth that trust and confidence in the relationships are the key to a healthy organization.
The greatest solutions and sustained growth comes from building opportunities through the right training. (According to Joseph Michelli Starbucks consistently invests more in training, than it does in advertising.)
Great leaders communicate with clarity - not just vision but also plans. They are also open to the insights of those they lead.
Howard, I raise my Pike Place Starbucks mug to your success!
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