Applying the Power of AND: Understanding the Universal Needs of the People You Serve AND Innovating to Meet the Unique Needs of Your Local Environment

There is an ongoing debate among cultural anthropologists between the two conflicting perspectives of universalism and cultural relativism. Universalism suggests that the underlying similarities among all people are greater than their cultural differences, while cultural relativism asserts that cultural differences have a profound effect on people, making it difficult for “outsiders” to fully understand the relevant context of behavior.

As a church leader, you may not consider yourself a cultural anthropologist, but go back and read that last phrase and you will probably change your mind.

To put it a different way, how easy is it for “outsiders” to become connected to your organization?

In Leading the Starbucks Way, organizational consultant Joseph Michelli uses two years of research with dozens of leaders in the Starbucks organization to develop five actionable principles that forge emotional connections that drive innovation, grow new business product lines, and foster employee and customer loyalty. These principles are “brief and clear, and put the customers, products, and experiences at the purposeful center of Starbucks.”

Leadership Principle #3: Reach for Common Ground

Starbucks leaders have made their share of mistakes in attempting to strike a balance between the universal and the cultural. In the process of their setbacks and victories, Starbucks serves as a helpful guide on how to make powerful and respectful connections in new opportunities.     – Joseph Michelli, Leading the Starbucks Way

The goal of leadership is to create the right environment for human connections to occur and to help staff members manage the inevitable issues that surface.

ChurchWorld Application

  1. Are you paying attention to your Guests’ needs to be seen and heard?
  2. Would you go so far as to say your Guests feel understood and known?
  3. Do your team members say thank you, offer a fond farewell, and invite guests into future opportunities to connect?
  4. When it comes to seeing, hearing, and knowing your Guests, what are the strengths and opportunities for your organization?
  5. Are you connecting with each Guest verbally and nonverbally upon first contact?
  6. Do you go from listening to Guests to Guest knowledge on which you can act?

Your community has all kinds of specific challenges. Do you know what they are?

Understanding your local predicament is about having an intimate grasp of the soil where God has called you to minister. It’s about walking firsthand your contours of locality.

Starbucks leadership has deployed a series of key approaches and adjustments to maximize the local relevance of products, services, and physical environment. They include decentralization and revitalization of their corporate structure, developing relationships with local allies, and understanding the physical properties of history of the community they serve.

 Considering local cultural influences is an important layer of our design process to ensure market relevance. For us, it starts with listening and observing the needs of our partners and customers. It’s about communicating up front, talking to customers, listening to partners, and it’s seeing through the lens of that collective experience.     – Thom Breslin, Director, Design, Starbucks UK

ChurchWorld Application

  1. Are you seeking to provide the same thing to everyone, or do you understand the needs of unique needs of different people?
  2. How far can and do you go to achieve local relevance?
  3. Have you completed a “sense of place” in your new markets such that you can blend your brand with local needs?

Leaders understand that maximized choice is essential to today’s consumer, but with choice comes a responsibility to ensure that you can execute the new product offerings at a level commensurate with your existing levels of excellence.

 If you don’t innovate, renovate, and constantly seek relevance – you die.     – Thom Breslin

ChurchWorld Application

  1. What are the product rituals and daily use patterns of prospective customers in new markets?
  2. How are you positioning your product (define or give examples) to capture customers in the context of their lifestyles?
  3. What are you doing to stay alive and thrive in new opportunities?

Starbucks leaders actively seek local relevance and adjust their product and service offerings accordingly. When leaders find the right business partners and make conscious and concerted efforts to give customers what they love, their business achieve lasting connections and maximal success.

What are the unique needs and opportunities where God has placed your church?

Part 6 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


Listen to Their Story

Every community has a story – a unique story. Every community has a character, a “feel”, and an attitude shaped by its own peculiar events and circumstances.



Does your church want to make an impact on your community in a meaningful way?

Listen to their story first.

Don’t rush in with your plans and dreams and schemes for what you want to accomplish. First, you ask what’s the story? What are the real issues, the real problems, the real needs?

  • What are the unique needs where God has placed us?
  • How are these needs reflected socially, economically, ethnically, environmentally, politically, and religiously?
  • What arena of our community is the furthest from the utopia that God wants to restore?
  • What special opportunities are found within our immediate sphere of influence (within a half-mile)?
  • What burning issues are alive in the public’s eyes and brought to attention by the media?
  • What needs and opportunities do the industries specific to our area create?
  • What is the most significant change in our community in the last decade, and what need does this create?
  • What are the largest community events, and what needs or opportunities do they create?
  • Because of our specific location, what solution could we provide that no other church does?
  • How would we describe the “atmosphere of lostness” in our community?
  • What is the creation story of our particular community, and what insight does this afford?
  • Does the history of our community bring to light any spiritual strongholds?
  • What one positive change in our community would have the most dramatic effect in people’s lives?

He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame. Proverbs 18:13