Starbuck's Comeback Vision Is About People

Written by Ben Cheek on .

The Great Recession caught Starbucks in a bad place.  They had just aquired several ambitious aquisitions and were over-extended in a major expansion of stores in existing and new markets.  To cut costs in a hurry, the coffee seller made a plan to cut 600 US stores in 2008 and 200 in 2009, plus another 100 overseas.  All the cuts had a major impact on profit and costs, but also on the giant's reputation with consumers and employee morale.

Since the recession, Starbucks has thrived.  Insiders and outsiders alike give the credit to efforts in planning a comeback almost as soon as the crisis began.

Video: CNNMoney's Corner Office series talks with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz says the core to the comeback was refocusing the company on people: both customers and employees.  More than some morale-raising warm fuzzies, Shultz sees this as having a direct relationship to returning the company back into profitability.

I've been a fan of Starbucks for a long time, and it's about more than just the coffee (which I rate about a 'B'). What's really kept me coming back is the company's treatment of employees and customer service.  It's consistent from store to store.  While living in the NYC area, I frequented about 7 stores.  Each one was friendly -- and in NYC, especially if you're not a regular face from that neighborhood -- that's a rarity.

Here's two take-aways I get from Schultz' insights into how the company got massive buy in for its come-back vision and creates experiences that share the company vision with consumers with every cup of coffee.

  • Personal Responsibility: Schultz talks about a conference for 10,000 managers he called right after returning to the company in 2008. In that conference, he called this team to take personal responsibility for turning the company around. According to Schultz, that was the turning point, and it energized the entire company to re-invent itself.

    This has been coming up quite a bit lately. There's a surprising connection between responsibility and ownership and performance. No duh, but why do leading CEO's talk about it like it's a corporate secret? I think the answer lies in how often such messages are undermined by the unspoken story of our companies.
  • Affirmation: When Schultz walks into a store, he always looks for something good an employee is doing that he can affirm. He understands Starbucks is selling some type of humanity (in fact, they are marketing "third space"), and that requires brining out the best humanity in workers.

Schultz is describing what I call Rule One of The Four Rules of vision: People over systems: creativity, fun, and access.  Unless we invest in people's humanity, they won't be interested in our vision.  But when we do acknowledge people's humanity and show we believe in their capacity, it's amazing how soon they are ready to buy into a shared vision and how deeply they will commit to following it through.


Redesigning Evangelism Like A Hacker

Written by Ben Cheek on .

jesus hackerVery few ordinary Christians see themselves as evangelists. I certainly wouldn't have called myself one. The word always brought to mind guys in slick suits with loud ties trying to pull on people's heart strings and wallets through TV screens. Honestly, an evangelist wasn't something I wanted to be. That is until I learned something that changed the definition of the word for me.

When Jesus picked the word “evangelist”, he did it with purpose. It had been used before. The word meant a “messenger of good news” and came from the days when warriors were sent from the front-lines of battles to announce to cities one key piece of news: Will we live or die? If the messenger came with news of victory, he was an evangelist. So an evangelist is someone who announces victory to people – the good news that they will live and not die. Now that sounds like something I could be into.

Right at this moment, every Christian needs to recover their passion for evangelism. As the world population explodes, the church – for the first time since it started in 33AD – isn't keeping pace with population growth. Part of this decline in Christian growth has to do with the de-Christianizing of the West, especially among the younger generations. For example, a new Pew Research poll has found that GenX and the Millennials in America are losing faith at increasing rates. GenXers (ages 34-49) are 5% less likely to be certain about God's existence than previous generations and Millennials (ages 18-33) are 16% less likely. For the first time in at least 5 generations, less than half (38%) of Millennials consider themselves “a religious person”.


Hacker-type Thinking Can Solve Malnutrition (with Video)

Written by Ben Cheek on .

This week in the Vision Can Do Anything Mini Course, we talked about the implications of taking a Jesus-inspired hacking approach to our leadership.  One implication is that we should always position ourselves as leading-edge or trailing-edge outsiders.  This helps us maintain a perspective that can always see what's needed to find the next innovation and/or include the next group of people.

One of our participants finds himself leading two groups, one a leading-edge group of creatives and artists, the other and trailing-edge non-profit for Haitian children.  As I thought about that, I remembered that even trailing-edge organizations should have leaders who are maintaining a leading-edge perspective.  A great example of this is some very important work being done in the area of hunger and malnutrition.

The governments of the developed world spent about $2.2 billion to solve world hunger in 2008i, but in 2009 the number of malnourished people swelled to over a billion — an increase of 75 million,ii even while current levels of agriculture could feed twice the current world population.iii Obviously, our big-systems, interventionist, resource-intensive approach isn't working.

On the other hand, Jerry and Monique Sternin implemented a strategy in Vietnam that helped 2.2 million people, including improving nutrition for 50,000 children. In the villages where the strategy was deployed, malnutrition was reduced by 85% —all without outside food aid. How did Sternin's team do this? They discovered how the parents of the healthiest children fed their kids. These parents fed 3-4 times a day as apposed to twice a day.  They also foraged for shrimp, crabs, and greens to add flavor (and nutrition) to meals. Success was a matter of designing clever ways to roll out this behavioral asset to other families.iv

Watch the video below to hear more about the story:

Want to know more about Sternins' strategy?  It's called Positive Deviance.  It looks for unusual stories of success and health in broken and dysfunctional systems.  It's been applied to problems ranging from infant health and mortality rates Pakistan to MSRA infections in American hospitals.  Find out more at the Positive Deviance Initiative.

I consider positive deviance to be a form of hacking humans systems.  It tends to follow The Four Rules of the hacker ethic very well:

  1. People over systems: creativity, fun, and access.
  2. Respect the system, but don't get entangled.
  3. Create open, versatile, sharable improvements.
  4. Keep everything as simple and decentralized as possible.


iCustome query on QWIDS (Query Wizard for International Development Statistics) Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).,4:1,5:4,2:1,7:1&q=3:212+4:1+5:4+2:1+7:1+1:1+6:2008 (accessed 3/29/10).

ii“Hunger Stats” World Food Programme. WFP. (accessed 3/29/10).

iiiJean Ziegler. “PROMOTION AND PROTECTION OF ALL HUMAN RIGHTS, CIVIL, POLITICAL, ECONOMIC, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL RIGHTS, INCLUDING THE RIGHT TO DEVELOPMENT: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to food” Human Rights Council. 2008 United Nations. (accessed 3/29/10). Pg 2.

ivArvind Singhal, Jerry Sternin, & Lucía Durá. “Combating Malnutrition in the Land of a Thousand Rice Fields: Positive Deviance Grows Roots in Vietnam ” Positive Deviance Wisdom Series. 2009 Positive Deviance Initiative. (accessed 3/29/10).


We Don't Trust Each Other

Written by Ben Cheek on .

A new poll out by Pew Research takes a look at trust and values issues and how they are effecting choices for various generations of Americans.  One stat in particular really struck me.  Take a look:

Trends of Trust

What's amazing to me is that even among the most trusting generation, the Silent Generation (born 1928-1945), only 4-in-ten people believe they can trust others.  It only gets worse from there until you get to Millenials (born after 1980), where only 19% are trusters.

There's plenty of individual reasons erroding trust, but I think there's one common dynamic that is at the core of the trust problem: complexity.  Life has been getting exponentially more complex for each generation, and trust has taken a direct hit because of it.

I hear this a lot when I talk to GenXers and Millenials about social relationships.  Even though much more of their lives are connected and accessible to those around them, many of them feel very lonely.  This is a key symptom of distrust.  All the connectivity and access makes trust harder to build since it empowers rumor mills, secret-leaking, and general distraction.  I've heard this same thing in social and work circles.

Right now I'm doing a lot of work on complexity and the errosion of trust.  You can read about it my new book Vision Can Do Anything.

Do you think I'm right?  If not, what do you think is erroding trust.


VIDEO: Was Jesus a Hacker?

Written by Ben Cheek on .

Today we're opening up the Vision Can Do Anything Mini-Course.  The mini-course follows our new book of the same title, and includes video shot at the Velocity 2014 conference.  Participants in the course can watch the 20 minute video OR they can download and read chapters one and two of the book.

Here's a 6-minute clip from the video for Session 1, talking about hacking as a paradigm for sharing vision in a world of complexity and how The Four Rules of the hacker ethic can even help us recover something essential about Jesus.

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