Listening is an Active Verb

At Starbucks, listening is synonymous with connecting, discovering, understanding, empathizing, and responding.     – Joseph Michelli, Leading the Starbucks Way

The benefits of this type of listening fuel the entrepreneurial and adaptive spirit of a brand that could have easily lost its nimbleness as a result of its growth and scale.

courtesy 360degreefeedback

courtesy 360degreefeedback

According to organizational consultant Joseph Michelli, many leaders are either too busy to listen or are more interested in speaking. As a result, listening intently, regularly, and respectfully to team members separates the great leader from the good one.

In the Starbucks organization, listening takes many forms. While leaders listen informally at an individual or team level, Starbucks also has a formalized department that consistently listens for the needs and engagement level of partners.

Virgil Jones, director, Partner Services at Starbucks, notes:

Our team conducts surveys, focus groups, and continuously takes a pulse on our partner population. Within that department, the most important thing I do on a daily basis is listen to our partners. The second most important thing I do is continue to touch base with our partners and adjust, because with the way technology is advancing, the things that are hot, interesting, and engaging with our partners today is going to be completely different 18 months from now.

Michelle Gass, president, Starbucks Europe, Middle East, and Africa, like many other Starbucks senior leaders, demonstrates a different kind of regular and personal listening that fuels partner engagement. Her approach comes in the form of “listening tours.” According to Michelle:

I travel across my region regularly and conduct listen tours and roundtable meetings. These are informal meetings where we spend about 90 minutes paying attention to the thoughts, needs, and ideas of those we serve. While listening is important, taking swift action to elevate experiences is essential. These tours are an ongoing process of connection and discovery, not an event.

Michelli adds:

In many ways, when leaders demonstrate formal and informal listening, they not only engage employees but also gain access to information that helps them stay relevant to the needs and observations of their team members.

ChurchWorld Application

  1. Do you practice regular, scheduled “listening tours” with your front-line team members?
  2. What are your systematic approaches to other types of leadership listening?
  3. How do you complete the listening cycle (what actions do you take to inform your team members that they have been “heard”?)

Are you really listening to your teams? What are you hearing? Most importantly, what are you doing?

Part 5 of a series in the 2013 GsD Fall Term

Leading the Starbucks Way: Information, Insights, and Analysis Needed to Create a High-Performance Guest-Oriented Organization

inspired by and adapted from Leading The Starbucks Way, by Joseph Michelli



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