Category Archives: Starbucks

Lent’s Compass. Day 20: You’re Not Necessarily Who You Think You Are.

I am a particular incarnationalist. I believe that we can understand cosmic questions only through particulars. I can understand God only through one specific particular, the incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth. This is the ultimate particular, which gives me my understanding of the Creator and of the beauty of life. I believe that God loved us so much that he came to us as a human being, as one of us, to show us his love. ~ Madeleine L’Engle from an interview in Christianity Today, 1979.

A number of years ago several friends sat around and imagined things Jesus would never say. The list they came up with included such gems as:

– “Gimme that!”
– “OK, so you come out first and introduce me, then …”
– “Do I look fat in this?”
– “Comme ci, Comme ca” (with hand gesture)
– “If you really loved me you’d try harder.”
– “I’m disappointed with you.”

The list works because the statements are contrary to the person we read about in the Christian Bible. They don’t align with what he said, or how he lived. How many of us can say that? That our thoughts and words about how we should live or who we are are as people are in alignment with our actions? That they’re in alignment with the way we actually do live, every day?

One of the things I like about the Franklin Covey approach to managing time, is that you’re asked to spend time thinking about what your values are and to spell out what each value means to you. After that, you look at the relationship between what you value and the way you spend your time. You’re not asked to consider it once, but every time you plan. Once isn’t enough. To maintain alignment, you have to take stock again and again. That discipline is good practice.

You have to pay attention because it’s easy to lose track. It’s easy to think that the person we think we are and say we are and who our actions say we are, are the same. They’re not. We lie. We lie to others and to ourselves. A friend of mine said to me, “Do you know what I don’t like about Facebook? The way everyone seems to be living an extraordinary life, except me.” It’s not true of course. We’re all leading ordinary lives. What she’d noticed is the gloss that exists in Facebook posts.

The presence of some of the gloss is sometimes intentional. One Facebook friend loves to provoke arguments. To him, if it doesn’t spark controversy a post is boring. Some of the gloss is unintentional. Last year I went to my high school reunion. Several high school Facebook friends told me they look forward to seeing my cooking updates. Two more wondered when I joined the priesthood. I like sharing the meals I’m preparing. I’m deeply interested in the way people think what they’re supposed to do in this life. About vocation and also about the zen of being human. I didn’t think anyone would define me by those posts. Yet they did. It is also something I’ve done too. A friend mostly posts photos she takes. For a long time I thought she’d become a professional photographer.

It’s a short walk from believing the gloss we see on Facebook posts to missing the irony that happens when our actions move out of alignment with our thoughts or words. Before I started working as a coach and trainer, I ran coffee shops for Starbucks. I remember hearing a free-spirited member of my staff having a conversation with a customer about the evils of corporate coffee. She explained how she preferred getting her coffee from independent shops. She did that while working a shift for Starbucks. She was one of my top performers. This same woman enjoyed her job enough to spend chunks of her free time at Starbucks. She never let on that she was aware that who she thought she was, who she said she was and who her actions said she was, were different things.

When our thoughts and words and actions are out of alignment, our being changes.

Pay attention. Take stock. Are you the person you think you are?


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.


Where Happiness (at Work) Comes From

A few weeks back I lopped a few feet off the hedges in the back yard. I’m always amazed about how quickly they grow back. Of course, I trampled several of my wife’s strawberry plants in the process. Unintentional yes, but still a loss that I heard about and have to live with.

In the present economy, it’s obvious that others have stepped on some strawberry’s too. The pruning is hard for those cut and those who weren’t. The bar’s been raised everywhere for everyone. So not only is there a pruning but the hedges have to grow better and truer than they have (that adds Mendel to the mix).

The paradox of being an inspirational leader means that you get to lead and inspire and pour your heart and soul into what you do and that you have to able to turn on a dime from inspiring someone in two and a half minutes to making hard cuts that effect folks lives. And then because you are so personal and passionate, folks react and respond to everything you do and don’t do with similar passion and verve.

A friend asks, “All these years, I felt I was making a difference, was it all just my EGO?”
Anthony Demello has a story that may help here.

An older and younger monk went on a journey. They came to a small river where a beautiful woman stood. The older monk asked her if she needed help. She told him that she needed to get to the other side of the river but couldn’t swim. The monk said, “I can help you.” He then carried her across the river. She thanked him and the monks continued their journey. As they walked the younger monk complained bitterly, “Do you realize the occasion of sin you put yourself in when you helped that woman? When folks hear about this at the monastery, oh my. The scandal will be terrible!” After listening for an hour, the older monk stopped, looked him in the eye and said, “Son, I left that woman on the bank an hour ago. Why are you still carrying her with you?”

That’s one of the hardest parts of this journey. Forgiving people. I think it’s important to forgive everyone. Another harder part? Forgiving your self.

I share those to encourage you to live from the good truths, the facts that you know about yourself. Not because a call is coming, from your boss or an unhappy customer calling in a complaint.

Maybe someone dropped the ball. Maybe life just happened. Our happiness has to come from a deeper place than what someone else says or does or promises to do. The call may yet come. It may not. If it does, maybe it will be a good call. Maybe it won’t. Either way, you are still you, at once glorious and deeply flawed. We all are. In our lives there will always be some who say, “God help us all.” There will always be others too who say, “Thank goodness.” Whether your branches grow stronger and truer is not for them to say. That’s yours alone.

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