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What’s the anything of your business? Lessons from a Starbucks barista

Years ago, my daughter Victoria was a Starbucks barista. She worked at one of the busiest Starbucks in Toronto and often got (or got stuck with) the opening shift. On the outskirts of the GTA (Greater Toronto Area), her Starbucks was positioned at the first stop for buses from the suburbs. From each bus, only minutes apart, would pour a stream of sleep-deprived, caffeine-craving zombies who had jumped from bed to bus in a matter of minutes without their early morning java. You can imagine the emotional state of these customers as they joined the queue. And you can just picture the Starbucks team members, hustling to fill orders. Victoria would often head for work with dread.

Starbucks officially states: “Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

But what did that mean to Victoria, trudging out of the house at 4.30 a.m. to be on time to open the store, ready for the onslaught of customers? To her, it meant that her barista job was not just serving coffee – it was about helping people with their lives. I was always amazed at how much she knew about her customers, considering the brief time it takes to fill an order. She knew their names, their life stories, their challenges and they knew her, her stories and her aspirations. She truly connected with them, and they with her.

As I think about my work helping businesses craft and live their mission, I reflect on my observation of this one barista living the mission of a billion dollar, multinational:

  1. Be very clear on what your business really is. Starbucks is not a coffee company – note that their mission doesn’t even have the “c” word in it. They have defined a lofty mission that inspires others. And then they try to live it, and structure their entire business around that mission.
  2. Make sure your team members have the right attitude for your business. Attitude is not a one size fit all – you have to determine what type of person will best carry out your mission. I do not know anything about the Starbucks employee selection process, but I would guess that in order to “inspire and nurture the human spirit” they would want people who love others, are committed to service, have deep respect for others, and are able to see the good in everyone. These are not trained or learned behaviours – these are deeply ingrained values that one needs to surface in the interview and selection process.
  3. Design processes that reinforce your values. Know why the Starbucks baristas are trained to ask your name and write it on the cup? So that each customer can hear the beauty of their own name, and know that they are a PERSON, not just a nameless consumer.

Of course there are many more lessons from Starbucks that one can read about in books and articles. But seeing the on the ground manifestation of someone living the mission every day reminds me of the work the leader has to do. To that end, take some time to answer these questions:

  1. What is the real, lofty mission of your organization?
  2. What type of people do you need to carry out this mission?
  3. What processes will help them do so?

Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schulz said: “When you’re surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible.”

What’s the “anything” of your business?

What’s the anything of your business? Lessons from a Starbucks barista

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