Category Archives: Work

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.


25th day of Lent. What makes a day good.

What makes a day, good? Is it an interaction where you see someone else’s day changing for the better? A blue sky that catches you by surprise with the depth of its color? A list of things made in the morning and checked off as you move through a day? The hug you share at the end of one? The kiss that begins it?

As I moved through my day, I wasn’t sure what sort of day it was turning out to be. While I made my bank teller’s day, and made progress on some projects. I wasn’t able to get much traction, with others. There were more things I didn’t even have a chance to think about, much less begin. Nothing bad happened. It’s just that it didn’t seem to stand out in any way. Mostly it felt, well, ordinary.

When Bud was in Middle School, I made a point of asking him every day how his day was. It’s a simple habit I still do. Then, “Normal” was typically the only thing he’d say. Just that one word. If he said more, it meant the day was exceptional. Moving through today, I was ready to label it as being normal in that way. Except I kept running into things that reminded me that in wanting to see changes or accomplishments of a certain magnitude before calling a day “good” I was missing the point.

Parker Palmer posted a beloved poem by Leonard Nathan–on Facebook–about accepting yourself as you are. In his comments about the poem he reminded me that what I was feeling wasn’t unusual,

“Given my small, ordinary, un-famous and fleeting life, what can I do that’s of true worth and value?”

“What can I do that’s of worth and value?” What am I doing even on this most ordinary of days?

With a Facebook status update Tim Madigan helped me take a step to an answer. He relayed how the day before, instead of speaking to a class of students about the way to write long feature stories, he instead talked about where the stories come from. Here’s what he said:

“Yesterday TCU journalism professor Robert Bohler invited me to talk to his sports writing class about how to put together a long feature story. I decided to talk about Fred Rogers instead, basically because I needed to hear the message of the great man again myself. So I told the students what Fred told me: It was okay to feel afraid, sad, angry, to feel like a mess inside because pretty much everybody does at one time or another. There is another word for mess, that’s human. But Fred taught that you don’t have to be a mess alone. He was so good at coaxing our messes out of hiding, receiving them with that supernatural presence of his, that compassion, that non-judgment, that wisdom, that love.. Yesterday, I could see in their young eyes that I was kind of rocking the students’ world. It certainly wasn’t what they expected. Me either, as far as that goes. What does “Anything Mentionable is Manageable,” or “That which is more personal is most universal,” or “Your place in this life is unique, absolutely unique,” have to do with sports writing? Everything, as it turns out.”

Madigan told a story he “needed to hear” himself. That story allowed him to rock the students world. Listening to our gut, is a small way we exercise trust in ourselves. For me his story helped me see that I hadn’t been accepting the day for what it was.

Today I also watched a video clip from the CBS Sunday Morning episode that aired on March 1st. The clip is about a high school basketball team displaying a trough of March-sanity. When they learned the team they were playing didn’t have any fans, they recruited some for them.

Steve Hartman, the CBS reporter conducting the interview, comments in the clip, “This is not what I’ve ever heard sports be.” In reply, Hudson Bradley–one of the players who recruited fans for the other team said–said, “I think in a way, this is kind of how sports should be. It’s kind of shown me the real impact that encouragement and support for anybody can make.” In a voice over, Hartman quotes Bradley saying, “We all need someone to believe in us. We all need someone who knows our mistakes, and loves us anyway.” Just like that a small gesture transforms a game, and becomes something a group of boys will “never forget.” A small gesture, and a remarkable story.

Afterwards I thought about how I’d made my bank teller’s day. I didn’t transform her sense of her profession, as Tim may have with the class he spoke to. I didn’t give her a memory she’ll carry with her for the rest of her life. All I did was deliver a few boxes of Girl Scout Cookies she’d had trouble finding. She thanked me three times. When I turned to leave I heard her ask a colleague, “What kind do you want?” My yes to her request for cookies, was a connection that facilitated another one with her colleague. Little moments like that? They’re what makes a day good.

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22nd day of Lent. The Cornucopia I’d Forgotten.

Yesterday I stood in the middle of Sahadi’s–a specialty foods store in Brooklyn Heights–staring at their selection of nuts and dried fruit. I was there with two wonderful friends. One said, “What do you like? Nuts? Dried fruit? Do you like hummus?” And the other, “Isn’t it amazing? Pick something. We want to buy you something.” “Oh, I have no idea” I said. And, “You don’t have to do that.” I was overwhelmed with the cornucopia of products, the commotion, and absolutely taken with their adorable toddler. Couldn’t I just keep playing with him?

There are multiple ways to express love. What’s less obvious is that there are ways we prefer not just to receive love, but give love as well. I didn’t realize people had a bias about love until several years ago when I read Gary Chapman’s book The Five Languages of Love. In his book Chapman does a nice job distilling five easy ways or languages of loving. According to Chapman, some prefer to show their love with physical touch, while others prefer to show their love through acts of service. There is also spending quality time, sharing words of affirmation, and receiving gifts. The idea is not that we don’t value all of these ways. Most people do. The key insight is that because we prefer some more than others it is helpful to appreciate the love language your partner has so that you can love them in ways they’ll appreciate, and easily see. It’s also important to understand theirs so that you can remember what is important to them as they go about loving you. Who wants to miss being loved?

Standing in Sahadi’s, it became clear that it would make my friends happy if I picked a few things. They–I know this is obvious–were simply trying to show me their love. When it comes to loving, the worst thing we can do, is refuse. As Michael Himes points out in the talk I listened to the other day, unrequited love is as painful as it is because we are made in the image of God, who is love. When our love is rejected, the pain reaches to our core.

We left Sahadi’s with five pounds of love. As we walked away from the store, I picked up their toddler. “Would he let me do that?” I wondered. At first it didn’t go well. I tried facing him forward. “Mommy?” he said plaintively. That was better but not good enough. I lifted him high into the air, and then down. High into the air and then down. “Look honey, he’s smiling” my friend said to her spouse. As we walked my actions gave them both a small break from actively parenting. I was delighted. Being of service is the my favorite way of expressing love.

As we parted I remembered something I’d left out of yesterday’s refection about grieving. It’s something David Malham says about love in his piece Momento Mori:

“The awareness of premature or unexpected endings can motivate us to routinely demonstrate our love to those important to us. Let’s not save our affection, as if a rare wine, for special occasions. Give and receive it as essential nourishment.”

Love given and received, overflows. It’s too easy to forget this cornucopia is there when you’re with people you love. I forget all the time. Today, with quality time, five pounds of gifts, and a toddler lifted high, I remembered.


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.

Being Part of Something Special

CNN is reporting that in the aftermath of hurricane Ike, “Starbucks stores have…turned out to be places where people can get together to share information and comfort each other.”

Reading that reminded me of an anecdote a friend from San Diego shared with me last year when wildfires were raging north of L.A., in Orange County and San Diego.

A customer came into the Starbucks store he manages and exclaimed in thanksgiving: “Firemen; Policemen; Post Office and you guys!”

That’s being part of something special.

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