Published on: March 25, 2022
by Kevin Coupe
Inc. has a piece about Starbucks once and future CEO, Howard Schultz, who will be back the helm of the company for the third time next month with the retirement of current CEO Kevin Thomas. Starbucks has some significant issues, including unionization movements and a stock price in decline, and the apparent hope is that Schultz - who for decades personified the brand - will be able to work some old magic on the company's value proposition and image.
The Inc. piece references Schultz's memoir of a decade ago, "Pour Your Heart Into It," and pulls what it suggests is a "revealing" quote from it about the company's past struggle with unions:
"If they had faith in me and my motives, they wouldn't need a union."
Inc. writes: "Schultz may not have known it then, but these 14 words spell out the perennial struggle leaders have with building employee trust. It's not only about building faith in motives -- it's about communicating the priority of (and delivering) concrete benefits that employees need."
The piece argues that these 14 words are "I-centric" - they are about Schultz's motives, not the real challenges and concerns of employees. It seems clear that Starbucks' "baristas are feeling overworked, overwhelmed, and burdened by complex orders," not to mention under-appreciated and under-compensated by their employer - and the fact that Starbucks long has had a reputation as a progressive employer doesn't really matter.
Inc. makes the point that a statement from Schultz, made when the announcement of his return to Starbucks went public, suggests that he understands the world has changed since he wrote his book. Schultz said: "I know the company must transform once again to meet a new and exciting future where all of our stakeholders mutually flourish."
In other words, he's not asking the employees to have faith in his motives. He's promising to make changes that will allow the company to live up to its core promises, to employees and customers. (In doing so, the company may be better able to live up to its promises to investors.)
It is an Eye-Opening shift, I think.
There are ways for Schultz to do this, I think.
For one thing - and I've been arguing this for some time - he ought to stop fighting the unionization movement. Doing so only results in negative energy. Rather, be positive … and embrace the opportunity to prove to employees that unions aren't necessary to achieve their goals. He might even want to ban the use of the word "union" by management, and keep the relentless focus on creating a better workplace.
And second, he ought to spend a ton of time in the stores. If the pandemic proved anything, it is that business leaders don't have to be in the office to lead. So get out of Seattle, and maybe enlist other members of the c-suite to do the same thing.
This is a great lesson for every business leader, I think … especially in retail, where stores and store employees are on the front lines, responsible for any success the company might have. Positive energy and a consistent presence in the field are critical factors in being successful in the modern marketplace.
It is critical to know what is important, and what is not.
The line from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, when offered evacuation by the United States when Russian invaded his country, comes to mind:
"The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride," Zelensky reportedly said.
The circumstances were far more dire, which makes the statement even more impressive - it is about knowing what is important.
Like I said. An Eye-Opener.