A CEO Gets it Right

CEO leadershipLast week I spoke about Amazon’s unintentional culture and the role the CEO had in it. This week I’d like to call out an example of what I think is good leadership and true customer service. Unlike Amazon, whose drive to customer service through speed and systems is all consuming, Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz has taken a different approach. He recently sent his employees an email asking them to be a bit more patient and a little more understanding because the stock market correction was causing anxiety for customers. He reminded his employees that their success is not an entitlement, it is earned, and by doing this he reinforced what Starbucks has always been which is a “third place” between home and work where people make a big transition in their day.

I realize many criticized this move with comments like it was “unnecessary” or “overreach,” and many view Schultz as a bit idealistic, but I thought it showed a caring and concern for his customers and his staff. Understanding what’s happening outside the doors is key to connecting with your customers. One of Amazon’s issues is that they have become so insulated within their own bruising, competitive culture that until the Op-Ed piece came out, many of their employees didn’t even know it was abnormal! Starbucks on the other hand, has always tried to be aware of what is going on socially and outside of their four walls so they can better serve their customers. While they have been criticized for some of their efforts along these lines, I think it illustrates an important element of leadership which is that there is a larger social context to all businesses. Starbucks has a clear understanding of their role as the third place and what that means within the context of their customers’ overall lives. How many businesses can say that?

Communication From Leadership is Key

Another important aspect in all of this is that communication from leadership is so key to employee satisfaction, yet so often overlooked. My guess is the employees did not “need” a letter from Schultz asking them to be more aware, but it was a nice way to know what he was thinking and expecting and it was a way to get everyone on the same page. When employees don’t know what’s going on, they make-up stories. We are all graduates of MSU (Make Stuff Up) and in the absence of information, our imaginations get to work.

When employees know what is expected of them and that they are a valuable part of the team they will be more productive. In a large organization like Starbucks, most don’t get to personally connect with Schultz on a regular basis so a letter asking for something based on current conditions is one way for him to reach out and for employees to know their actions matter.

When is the last time you sat down with your employees just to take the pulse of the organization? Share a bit of news? Walk the four corners? Companies both big and small could benefit from doing all of the above more often. Employees want connection and information. If you don’t provide it, they will get to work at guessing, interpreting and imagining and it will likely create an “unintentional culture.”