Category Archives: Servant Leadership

33rd day of Lent. Why I’m Grateful I’m Not the Only One Paying Attention.

I did some shopping today at my local Trader Joe’s. I went in to pick up a couple of items. Odds and ends that I buy at there, as much because it’s a place where I know I’m likely to run into a friend and neighbor, as for the food itself. When I say “run into” I mean what I’m saying. Last week, moments after I spotted a friend, we collided. No one was harmed in the process. My friend was momentarily startled, until he saw me, at which point what happened made perfect sense.

I found the items I was looking for and made my way to one of the registers. What I saw there took me by surprise. The shopper in front of me was a mom with two elementary school-aged children, who looked to be about eight and ten. The kids weren’t standing with their mom. No. They were standing with the employee–who I’ll call Val–who was checking them out. Except, Val wasn’t checking them out. The kids were doing the much of that work. I watched as the younger boy handed his sister a bunch of banana’s. Val hit a button on the register and turned to the girl saying, “See the number on the banana’s? It’s 4011. Enter that number here.” “Can’t I scan them?” she’s asked. “We have to count them. Enter that number. Ok. How many are there?” “Six” the girl said. “Ok. That’s what you’re going to put in next.”

For me, there were multiple areas of wonder here. There were kids standing in Val’s space. This wasn’t a toddler seated in the buggy, these were kids who could easily get in the way. And yet the way Val integrated the kids into the process, it was as if it was something she does every day. I didn’t catch even the slightest hint that the children were distracting or bothering Val with their presence. She was fully present, and engaged in the reality she was experiencing. What’s more, it didn’t for a moment feel as if they were slowing down the line. I was witnessing some of the best customer service I’d ever seen.

I stepped out of line and caught the attention of one of the managers. “I have to tell you. What’s happening at the register over there”–and I described Val–“is what Starbucks calls Legendary Service. Your employee is involving her customers kids, is smiling, and isn’t missing a beat. She’s outstanding.” “Isn’t she?” The manager said. “The service she gives is consistently great. She’s someone I want new employees to learn from. Would you mind if I told her what you said?” “Please do.” We chatted for a few moments longer and then I got back in line, but at another register closer to where I was now standing. On my way out I noticed that Val had just finished checking out another customer. I could thank her myself. “Excuse me,” I said. “I just wanted to say, I watched the way you embraced your other customer and her kids. You were fantastic. The top of the bar for excellent customer service is about here.” I held my hand at my eye level. “What you were doing is way up here.” I reached my hand up as high as I could. The customer she’d just finished ringing up, smiled and nodded in agreement. “Thank you” Val said.

Leaving the store, I found myself behind an elderly woman slowly pushing her cart towards the exit. I saw no need to rush her, and walked patiently behind her. At a certain point, another woman pushed past me, and walked around the woman’s cart. She looked back at the woman, and asked her, “would it help if I pulled the cart for you?” “Oh yes,” she said. “Thank you.” As we passed through the outer door, she again asked, “If you want, I can walk you to your car?” “No thanks. A friend is waiting for me, but thank you.” The other woman smiled and left.

There are moments you catch other’s in. There are moments you seize. There are moments you miss completely. I’d just done all three. I let the miss with the elderly woman bother me for a short moment. I realized there isn’t any way I could have known that she needed help. My mother walks slowly. When I’m with my mom, I’m used to adjusting my pace. Still, what happened is a reminder that I only notice what I see, and what I see is only part of the picture. That’s why I’m grateful I’m not the only one paying attention.


Respecting the Bean

Coffee love (and more).

I was in an indie coffee shop a few weeks back and asked about a bean they were selling – out of pure interest. I liked the cup I was drinking and wanted to know what it was.

The barista asked one person, who asked another person, who asked fourth person before the first person took a guess. I almost laughed out loud.

The shop has a great local rep and participates at Specialty Coffee Association conferences, barista championships, etc. Still, no one knew. I realized that in the end, at every business really, the product you provide is second to the service the people you’ve hired to sell it can offer. At Starbucks, Howard Behar was famous for saying, “We’re not in the coffee business serving people. We’re in the people business, serving coffee.”

At your business much do your people know about the services you offer? How skilled are they at helping meet the needs of your customers? These things may look different shop to shop. Store to store. Business to business. The fundamental issue is the one Behar was addressing at Starbucks: How much do your folks respect your bean?

The Road We’re On

Six years years ago Starbucks closed every store and office after the planes hit and fell. And the company sent everyone home. Everyone.

Starbucks core purpose is to provide an uplifting spirit that enriches people’s daily lives. In the midst of that tragedy Howard told us to go home to be with our families. We–I work for Starbucks too–to be authentically who we are, could not have done anything else.

For weeks afterwards, partners took container after container of coffee, trays of pastries and cases of bottled water to the crash sites… it was a reflex, we couldn’t not do that and be “Starbucks.”

In my area this involved driving over an hour each way to get to the crash site. The store manager who led the first efforts called a few folks the day after, loaded containers of brewed coffee into her jeep and went. I don’t think she even knew where she was going. But she couldn’t not go. As the days passed, partner after partner asked, “Jen, I want to help, when can I go?” going, in making the request, they embodied our purpose.

In the last couple of weeks a major earthquake hit Lima, Peru. Starbucks has stores there. We contacted our people there and made sure we knew everyone of our partners were safe. As we looked at hurricanes getting ready to hit the Yucatan penisula, we put plans into place to help our people there if we needed to — not just plans for our stores — but for our people.

After Katrina, we looked until we could account for everyone. We broadcast updates internally so that we could all know and have that peace that comes from knowing that everyone is ok.

That’s Starbucks six years ago and Starbucks today. Same company. Same culture. Same amazing group of partners, just more of them.

And that road we’re on? I’m proud to be on it–I hope you are too. ~ originally published as a letter to partners at