Leadership lessons I learned in Starbucks today

There are some Starbucks stores I just can’t walk by even if I just downed a triple espresso and have no business going near more caffeine. Jeremy’s Starbucks, outside Macy’s in the Gardens Mall, is one of them. Not only have we gotten to know many of the staff by name, but we consistently enjoy a good experience in the store. Today David and I were pondering a few leadership lessons we observed while getting our fix.

  • You have more than one business objective.

As we all know — mostly because Starbucks released it in their corporate press release!  — the core mission of Starbucks is to produce a quality cup of coffee. But really there are more objectives than that. In Jeremy’s store there are a few others: create community, give back to the community, be innovative, create your first impressions.

Takeaway: identify the priorities that help your core business succeed. Remember that you are in the people business, the social justice business, the hospitality industry…

  • Build systems in to meet your objectives if they don’t come naturally.

Sadly, we’ve all been to a Starbucks just after they have been slammed by a rush. Tables are littered, there are spills on the floor, maybe sugar scattered over the condiment table. And yet it is Starbuck’s objective to make sure the lobby area is cleaned and straightened periodically — every ten minutes according to Jeremy. To remind himself — and staff — of this important but easily forgotten task, Jeremy has a timer going off especially during rush times. Simple solution.

Takeaway: what are the seemingly mundane, repetitive tasks that actually cause our whole system (church, home, business etc.) to run smoothly. Are we remembering to place a value on accomplishing them?

  • The goal of leadership is to have a team that functions well without you.

Several times this week we’ve sat in Jeremy’s store and been taken care of as well as we are when he is there. And it isn’t (always) because the staff knows us. He has developed a culture of personal responsibility and community that can function without his physical presence for a period of time.

Takeaway: does our team fall apart without us? Do things run smoothly only because we are there to keep an eye on the minor bumps in the road or have we empowered our team to take responsibility for solutions and ideas?

  • Keep a close eye on your staffing requirements and supply.

Jeremy makes sure he hires top-quality people, but only just enough to cover his hours. Why? Because a top-quality person doesn’t want to be competing for hours. They want to jump in and get the job done. An uncommitted sparse part-timer has a hard time absorbing and transmitting your company or church DNA. It’s not impossible, but harder.

Takeaway: tough times may require difficult decisions. Do you have the right number of staff to keep your energy levels high without burning anyone out?

  • Exceed expectations.

Time and again Jeremy excels in this department. Today, for instance, he quietly switched our to-go cups to ceramic “stay here” cups, encouraging us to sit down and relax for a moment. It’s a little difference, but my inner coffee soul (yes, there is one) loves the look of a dopio espresso in a ceramic white cup. In another crucial area, he and his staff work hard on learning names and favorite drinks. Yes, this too is part of Starbucks culture, but it isn’t always practiced. Done well, this one idea alone leads to increased customer loyalty. We’re all in an energy-draining fight against anonymity. Simple solution.

Takeaway: look for the small areas where you or your staff can exceed an expectation on a regular basis.

By Marla Saunders

I am passionately devoted to living my life in the places God has given me. Over the years those places have changed: from homeschooler to businesswoman, from consumer to storyteller. These days I'm focusing on building a new business and figuring out what it means to do everything with integrity and informed by faith.