Moving Forward: A reflection on work and change at Starbucks (and everywhere else).

For as long as anyone at Starbucks could remember, there was success. Starbucks was a forward looking brand. The creative juices were allowed to run wild. There were Hear Music stores where you could burn a customized CD. A Starbucks Entertainment division was established to market books, music and movies. A national conference for Store Managers was scheduled in Costa Rica. There was ultra-rapid expansion as Starbucks doubled its size in a little over four years. These contributing factors helped to bring Starbucks where it is today.

Say what you want about how Starbucks lost it’s focus, but when everything you touch turns to gold, you start to touch everything. A robust organization can afford a drinking chocolate bust in Chantico on its way to another wonderful product.

The economy’s been stumbling for some time now. This recession hit Starbucks early on. Not successful? That was a new experience for the company. Reflex says, “go back to what we were.” How? “The way we’ve always done it.” That was the sense behind efforts towards building a “merchant mentality” or “getting back to basics/core/coffee.” The calls went out. Banners were waved and unlike in the past, business did not improve.

Here was a new business climate that couldn’t be changed by a CEO’s note or a Howard Schultz voice mail. The company had to move through a transition to meet the needs of the new environment.

Change happens (you’re fired or laid off). Transitions are things you move through over time (the realities you have to live with after change happens).

The first step you have to take to move through a transition successfully is to admit that an ending has taken place. That means you have to let go of the past. Of the way things used to be.

A former store manager I know said it’s taking longer for her to get over Starbucks than it did her first husband. I will venture a guess that the passionate connection she has for Starbucks even now, is much greater than the connection she had with her husband at the end.

I still write about Starbucks because I spent many wonderful years there. At the same time, I write less often than I did, not because I think less of Starbucks. As time passes the sense of myself as a partner is becoming a smaller part of me. I’m letting go.

If you’re in a similar place, it might be helpful to think of other transitions you’ve experienced and successfully moved through. Perhaps you lost a favorite relative or family pet. At seven, when my sister flushed my goldfish down the toilet I was traumatized in a seven year old’s way. Maybe you moved to a new town and had to say goodbye to all your friends? Tough stuff, right? What got you through then might be helpful now.

Remember too, that you’re not the only one experiencing this. It’s the whole economy. Everyone. What do you do? How do you (all) hold on? How do you know you’re doing everything you need to do your job well? When is it going to get better? Is it getting worse? How do you know? If you’re feeling like you’re being micro-managed at work in a way you never have before, it may be that your supervisors are asking these same questions. Like you, they don’t know.

William Bridges, in his book “Managing Transitions” calls this experience the “Neutral Zone.” It’s an in-between time where you know you can’t go back to the way things were. At the same time, you’re not comfortable where you are. You can’t move forward either, because in order to do that you have to live fully in the present.

At Starbucks, Howard Schultz’s recent statement that the “transformation is complete” is at one level gutsy and at another the best message he could send to his employees and shareholders. He’s saying, structurally, that Starbucks is pretty much done with the changes. If that is true it means what everyone has to do is embrace the new Starbucks. There is no going back. What the company is like now–that’s the company. It’s Starbucks. Whatever changes have happened where you work, the same is true. The way your firm is now, is your firm.

If you want to get out of the Neutral Zone and into a new beginning, you have to do everything you can to accept and embrace your company as it is now. Only then will your firm be able to live into it’s mission in its new form. Only then will things get better for everyone. At every level.

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One thought on “Moving Forward: A reflection on work and change at Starbucks (and everywhere else).

  1. […] No one knows exactly what that will look like. The staff is working under a cloud. I know what that feels like. It’s not fun. More than ever, they need to be lifted up. I’m good at lifting […]

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