Change Lessons from Starbucks

Readers know of my fondness of using Starbucks as a model for excellence in Guest Experiences. Over the past several years I have probably referred to them a couple of dozen times or more. One of my most requested presentations on an introduction to Guest Experiences uses Starbucks as a model. When something works well, and can serve as a model for what churches can do, why not use it?

There’s a flip side to Starbucks as well. In late 2007, the company was not doing well, and the future looked bleak. To address the emerging problems, former CEO Howard Schultz, who had stepped aside almost eight years earlier to become chairman of the board, did something unexpected: he returned as CEO to oversee day-to-day operations.

Schultz came back to Starbucks with a passion and a plan, and over the next two years, Starbucks returned to sustainable, profitable growth.

Schultz has recounted this story in Onward, released in 2011. It is a fascinating and extraordinarily intimate look at Schultz’s leadership – one that I think church leaders would find appropriate for their own journey.

Onward also serves as a great refresher and prelude to a brand new book on Starbucks: Leading the Starbucks Way, by Joseph Michelli. It was just released and I am currently working through it, preparing a new series of leadership principles demonstrated by your friendly neighborhood baristas at Starbucks.

So, for the next few days, I want to dive back into Onward and pull out some lessons for ChurchWorld leaders. What’s the best place to start?

A closed sign.

On February 26, 2008 – the following sign appeared on all 7,100 Starbucks stores in the US as they closed for three hours:

SB barista training store closed

That’s right – Starbucks closed the doors early and spent three hours retraining the baristas to make sure they were doing their best. Touted by some as a marketing stunt, taken advantage of by the competitors, losing over $6 million dollars – what was up with Starbucks?

It was a symbolic act – three hours of education would not solve the huge problems Starbucks was facing.

But it worked.

Over the next year and a half, Starbucks followed a “Transformation Agenda” that provided some great leadership principles that leaders in ChurchWorld will find helpful. Here is a summary from Schultz listing those leadership lessons:

  • Grow with discipline.
  • Balance intuition with rigor.
  • Innovate around the core.
  • Don’t embrace the status quo.
  • Find new ways to see.
  • Never expect a silver bullet.
  • Get your hands dirty.
  • Listen with empathy and over communicate with transparency.
  • Tell your story, refuse to let others define you.
  • Use authentic experiences to inspire.
  • Stick to your values, they are your foundation.
  • Hold people accountable but give them the tools to succeed.
  • Make the tough choices; it’s how you execute that counts.
  • Be decisive in times of crisis.
  • Be nimble.
  • Find truth in trials and lessons in mistakes.
  • Be responsible for what you see, hear and do.
  • Believe.

Ready to learn from Starbucks’ painful journey of transformation?

an updated post from a series reviewing Onward, by Howard Shultz


preparation for a new series coming soon on Leading the Starbucks Way, by Joseph Michelli


3 thoughts on “Change Lessons from Starbucks

  1. Pingback: The Leadership Lessons of Starbucks | 27gen

  2. Pingback: Starbucks, come Howard Schultz salvò la sua azienda

  3. Pingback: The Leadership Lessons of Starbucks – Guest Experience Design

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