That was one of the top trending hashtags on Twitter yesterday, after more than
$1 trillion was wiped from Asian markets, sending the Dow plunging again (it closed for the day down 588 points). You could say the recent events have left a number of people … on edge.
This fact did not go unnoticed by Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ chief executive. And he also made sure Starbucks employees were well aware of the situation–all 190,000 of them.
In a compelling memo sent yesterday, the billionaire chairman eased employees’ (“partners” in Starbucks-speak) worries and encouraged them to show special consideration for consumers:
Our customers are likely to experience an increased level of anxiety and concern. Please recognize this and–as you always have–remember that our success is not an entitlement, but something we need to earn, every day. Let’s be very sensitive to the pressures our customers may be feeling, and do everything we can to individually and collectively exceed their expectations.
(You can read the memo in full below.)
Love him or hate him, you have to give this to Schultz: He makes a difference.
Critics say it’s too much. For example, they cite Schultz’s idea earlier this year that began Starbucks’ “Race Together” campaign, which asked baristas to start a conversation with customers about race relations in America by writing the phrase on to-go coffee cups. Popular opinion ruled the concept ill-conceived and out-of-touch.
One could similarly dismiss Schultz’s latest move as naive, but I’m not one of those people. Here’s what I think CEOs and business owners everywhere can learn from Schultz’s email:
Leadership and culture start at the top. It would have been easy for Schultz to read the news and move on, neglecting the opportunity to have any type of impact on his employees. (It’s what the vast majority of CEOs did yesterday.)
But Schultz took advantage of a great opportunity to exert positive influence–in this case, inspiring his people to improve their customer service on what would certainly be a depressing day for many.
If you wonder how much of a role that plays in the long run, think about this: How did Starbucks become the largest coffeehouse company on earth? Is its coffee really so much better than everyone else’s?
People around the world continue to seek “the Starbucks experience.” Schultz’s leadership, with his attention to customer service, is a big part of that.
Dignify and praise others.
Schultz (and his communications team) did an exceptional job in crafting yesterday’s memo.
It’s not just the use of please and thank you. It’s not the reassurance to workers that Starbucks, a public company, is doing well and will continue to do so despite the market turmoil. It’s not even about the praise Schultz doles out to his employees … er, partners, when he says “the strength and equity of our brand, and the primary reason for our current and future success is because of all of YOU” and “I believe in you and have never been prouder to be your partner.”
It’s not only one of those things; it’s all of them. Which helps explain why Schultz enjoys a 91 percent approval rating from Starbucks employees on Glassdoor.
This all inevitably leads to the following questions:
Is Howard Schultz really the all-around nice guy that he seems to be? Judge for yourself.
Is Howard Schultz a shrewd and savvy businessman, and a remarkable CEO? Definitely.
Here is yesterday’s full memo, as released by The Washington Post:
To: Starbucks partners; managing directors for company-operated and joint venture markets
Date: August 24, 2015
Re: Message from Howard: Leading Through Turbulent Times
During our 23-year history as a public company, we have experienced–and successfully navigated through–several periods of extreme stock market volatility. And although we are not immune from the global stock market selloff that has now made its way to Wall Street, my confidence in our company and in all of you has never been greater. We are in the midst of another record-setting year–combining our unique “third place” in-store experience with highly relevant coffee and tea innovation and differentiated customer-facing mobile and digital technologies. We are making a profound social impact in the communities we serve around the world, and will continue to do so today and into the future.
Our company has weathered many different types of storms. But our brand has never been stronger or more relevant. Our pipeline of new products and breakthrough innovation has never been more robust. And our long term commitment to delivering an elevated partner experience is unwavering. I can assure you that we will continue to lead and manage the company through the lens of humanity, doing everything we possibly can to continue to make your families proud of our company and all we stand for. You have my word on this.
Today’s financial market volatility, combined with great political uncertainty both at home and abroad, will undoubtedly have an effect on consumer confidence and perhaps even our customers’ attitudes and behavior. Our customers are likely to experience an increased level of anxiety and concern. Please recognize this and–as you always have–remember that our success is not an entitlement, but something we need to earn, every day. Let’s be very sensitive to the pressures our customers may be feeling, and do everything we can to individually and collectively exceed their expectations.
Our growth plans for the future of our company will not be impacted by the turmoil of the financial markets. We will positively manage through today’s challenging environment just as we have positively navigated through challenging moments in the past. The experience we deliver in our stores, the strength and equity of our brand, and the primary reason for our current and future success is because of all of YOU. I believe in you and have never been prouder to be your partner.
What do you think? Are you a fan of how Schultz runs Starbucks? Why or why not? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Justin is the founder and leader of Insight, a consulting group that helps organizations improve their ability to work globally.