Yesterday I read Roger Lowenstein’s review of Onward, by Howard Schulz, the CEO of Starbucks. I haven’t read the book, but I vehemently disagree with a couple of points Mr. Lowenstein tries to make. In fact, I hope to ensure that he fails to make them. Let’s take them seriatim.
Crimes of Passion and Promotion
Mr. Lowenstein criticizes Mr. Schulz’s having a hand in writing the book, noting: “His account is unabashedly promotional—‘Behind every cup of Starbucks is the world’s highest quality, ethically sourced coffee beans’—and replete with red-white-and-blue motivational maxims.”
How could the CEO be anything less than an unabashed promoter of the brand? His role as a leader is to provide vision, meaning, and message. If he didn’t believe that it is important that Starbucks provide the highest quality, ethically sourced beans deeply enough to speak about it again and again, how should he expect his employees to behave when confronted with the inevitable trade-offs that are made as part of doing business? He is setting a standard that defines the brand to its customers, and he is setting a standard for his employees.
If it is not his job to provide the “red-white-and-blue motivational maxims,” exactly whose job is it to provide the work of making coffee with meaning? Think about that for a minute—Starbucks makes coffee. Inspired by that? Hardly.
Should Schulz instead be impartial? Should he expect those in his employ to be impartial to what the brand means? Would Starbucks be Starbucks if Schulz and his leadership believed less? If they spoke less?
High Crimes Italicized
Schulz is also criticized for his font choice (italics) and more motivation: “In the same dime-store inspirational vein, he italicizes the content of his emails and speeches, as if every word were transcendent. ‘The power of this company is you.’ Mr. Schultz’s evangelism notwithstanding, these ephemera are not the Dead Sea Scrolls.”
Personally, I can’t think of anything better than a leader attempting to make her words transcendent, nor can I think of more empowering message than “the power of this company is you.” If you are a leader, would you have your employees believe something less?
The truth is, if you are an employee of a company, you are the company. This is especially true if you are a customer-facing employee. Schulz is reminding employees of a fact that more employees of more companies could stand to be reminded of—and much more frequently. We bemoan the death of customer service, but mock the transformational language that might inspire it.
Why shouldn’t his words be a call to be something greater, something more than a coffee shop?
For those of us in sales, if you don’t believe, no one else will either. You know exactly what this means without me saying one word more.
If you are a CEO or business leader, know that if you don’t believe, neither your sales force nor your employees will believe either.
Dispassionate people are uninspiring and insipid.
Words! Words! Words!
It sucks the life out of people, and it sucks the life out of business.
Diving in deeply and believing isn’t always easy, but anything less is living a life of mediocrity. People want to be passionate about the things they love. They want meaningful work, and they want a meaningful life.
The words that we use to talk about business—and sales—don’t have to be dispassionate, staid, or banal. Why shouldn’t they be inspiring, exciting, passionate, calls to action that move people to provide a better experience? Why should they provide less than meaning?
If Schulz is guilty, what crimes is Jobs guilty of for suggesting his team put a dent in the universe?
Disclaimer: This post, like most I write, was powered by Starbucks coffee. I drink it religiously, even though it isn’t my absolute favorite. My absolute favorite is Intelligentsia, because of their shockingly great and life-altering espresso, but Chicago is a little out of my way most of the time. My local favorite is Stauf’s, whose coffee is simply exceptional, especially their Baba Budan and Kaldi’s blends.
Does “professionalism” require a lack of passion?
How do good leaders—and good salespeople (same thing)—use words to convey something emotional, like meaning?
This has to be a whole separate post, but I’ll ask anyway. What is the price of cynicism in business? What is the price you pay for not believing?
Not enough to really hit home for you? Let’s try this one: What is the price your customers pay when your delivery team is cynical and doesn’t believe that their work is important?
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