Success Brings Unintended Consequences

Starbucks’ battle back from mediocrity is well documented in CEO Howard Schultz’s 2011 book Onward. Pairing it with Jim Collins’ 2009 book How the Mighty Fall gives ChurchWorld leaders a sobering lesson in how to handle success.

Collins’ 5 Stages of Decline begin with “Hubris Born of Success.” He describes it in a short paragraph:

Great enterprises can become insulated by success; accumulated momentum can carry an enterprise forward, for a while, even if its leaders make poor decisions or lose discipline. Stage 1 kicks in when people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, and they lose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place. When the rhetoric of success (“We’re successful because we do the specific things”) replaces penetrating understanding and insight (“We’re successful because we understand why we do the specific things and under what condition they would no longer work”), decline will likely follow.

Here’s what Starbucks’ Schultz had to say in looking back to early 2008:

If not checked, success has a way of covering up small failures, and when many of us at Starbucks became swept up in the company’s success, it had unintended effects. We ignored, or maybe we just failed to notice, shortcomings.

We were so intent upon building more stores fast to meet each quarter’s projected sales growth that, too often, we picked bad locations or didn’t adequately train newly hired baristas. Sometimes we transferred a good store manager to oversee a new store, but filled the old post by promoting a barista before he or she was properly trained.

courtesy sodahead.com

courtesy sodahead.com

As the years passed, enthusiasm morphed into a sense of entitlement, at least from my perspective. Confidence became arrogance and, as some point, confusion as some of our people stepped back and began to scratch their heads, wondering what Starbucks stood for.

In the early years at Starbucks, I liked to say that a partner’s job at Starbucks was to “deliver on the unexpected” for customers. Now, many partners’ energies seemed to be focused on trying to deliver the expected – mostly for Wall Street.

Great organizations foster a productive tension between continuity and change. On the one hand, they adhere to the principles that produce success in the first place, yet on the other hand, they continually evolve, modifying their approach with creative improvements and intelligent adaptation.

When organizations fail to distinguish between current practices and the enduring principles of their success, and mistakenly fossilize around their practices, they’ve set themselves up for decline.

By confusing what and why, Starbucks found itself at a dangerous crossroads. Which direction would they go?

Questions for ChurchWorld Leaders:

  • Is your organization locked in on your vision, core values, purpose, and culture?
  • Or do you move in first this direction, then that, just to have “success”?

Beware the unintended consequences of success.

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

Onward

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

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