Several years ago I read a book by Howard Schultz describing his early days of building a little coffee company into the Starbucks that we know today. Beginning in 1971 Starbucks expanded to roughly 16,000 stores in 54 countries but in 2008 the whole Starbucks empire almost collapsed. Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul is a new book in which Schultz describes his efforts to transform the company “by refocusing on core values and reigniting the innovation required” to survive and thrive in an unstable economy and shifting marketplace “all the while fending off harsh critics and huge competitors.” This is a business book but its message extends to anyone interested in building people or impacting lives. Onward is a great story told by a man whose determination and humble-spirit kept the company going, largely because they held values that showed respect for people and for the world where we live. I was impressed with the emphasis on:
- Self-examination. This involved acknowledging their blemishes, not embracing the status quo, and undertaking transformation even when change was disruptive.
- Quality. In pursuing excellence, the company never sacrificed its commitment to purchasing and using quality coffee beans and other products – even though cutting quality could have saved money.
- Affirming people. The company determined to take care of its employees and customers but also its suppliers like the farmers in Africa who deserve to be paid fairly.
- Meeting social needs. A company conference was held in New Orleans shortly after Katrina. Working in the community every day was a part of the conference agenda. This week Starbucks began raising money for a program to create and sustain jobs for underserved communities.
- Communication. In addition to honesty with the media and employees ponder this Schultz perspective on their conference: “If the week felt like a rah-rah, feel-good corporate party, it would fail. If it was a self-indulgent trade show, a tense lecture, or a boring training seminar led by talking heads, it would fail. It had to be visceral. Interactive. Genuine. Emotional. Intelligent.”
Have you ever tried to revive a class, business, coaching practice, or organization? What worked? What is your reaction to the Starbucks story?