From the Ground Up: The Starbucks Culture

I am reading the book From the Ground Up” by Howard Schultz, former Starbucks CEO and Chairman. In this book, he was recounting the early days of Starbucks, its desires, dreams, and vision. Three people, in particular, helped shape the culture from its earliest days.

First was Dave Olsen, the chief coffee buyer of the company. He studied and researched the coffee business and coffee itself with awe. He exemplified humility in leadership and brought joy to the company. Dave understood that Starbucks was not just about coffee but creating community.

Next was Howard Behar, who implemented systems and processes for Starbucks. Howard imprinted the culture of truth-telling and that it is okay to have healthy conflicts in meetings.

According to Schultz, “If Howard had an opinion, he voiced it and encouraged others to do so, too. He didn’t hesitate to argue with people, especially me. Through his leadership style, I saw that honest communication is the root of productive problem-solving, even when it stings emotionally. It was Howard who initiated the practice of holding “open forums” inside the company.”

Thru Howard’s influence and leadership, senior managers met quarterly with employees who wanted to have the hard, awkward conversations needed to offer ideas, air complaints, and talk about the company’s performance. Through this initiative, open forums and honest feedback became a signature ritual in Starbucks.

The third guy was Orin Smith, who inspired the company with greater operational discipline and reinforced the culture of caring. Starbucks’ original statement included this aspiration: “We wish to be an economic, intellectual, and social asset in communities where we operate. With Orin Smith’s influence, Starbucks was actively involved in social justice issues, shifted towards using renewable energy and set goals to reduce water consumption and conserve energy.

Interestingly, the people who set the culture in place make up an organization’s values. So it would be good to rethink some things we say and do. Does it align with our values and beliefs? Are our systems and structures in line with our culture? Talk about it with your team this week.

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