I recently finished the turn-around biography of Starbucks through the lens of Howard Schultz, the founder and CEO of the company. In the late-2000’s, he led a resurgence for a company that was truly faltering. A particularly insightful section caught my attention [even as a Dunkin’ Coffee fan :)] as I seek to manage well the areas of influence that I oversee. I trust it will help you as well as you prepare to lead into the new year.

In any well-run retail business there is, by definition, a maniacal focus on details. Especially in the beginning. Young companies must produce results every day or risk closing their doors. Anything weith the slightest potential to add or detract from sales or earnings-the quality of each item, every customer interaction, the attitude of each employee, every dollar spent-is attended to with steadfast concern.

In 2008 I felt very strongly that many of us at Starbucks has lost our attention to details of our business. While there is obvious limitations to what the leaders of a multibillion-dollar global organization can be expected to attend to, we had, as a group, strayed too far in the national or global comps and rapid expansion, and when our comps were up we assumed that individual parts of the business-distribution, partner resources, entire geographic regions-were healthy.

Like a doctor who measures a patient’s height and weight every year without checking blood pressure or heart rate, Starbucks was not diagnosing itself at a level of detail that would help ensure its long-term health. We predicated future success on how many stores we opened during the quarter instead of taking the time to determine whether each of those stores would, in fact, be profitable. We thought in terms of millions of customers and thousands of stores instead of one customer, one partner, and one cup of coffee at a time.

With such a mindset, many little things dangerously slipped by unnoticed, or at least went unacknowledged. How could one imperfect cup of coffee, on unqualified manager, or one poorly located store matter when millions of cups of coffee were being served in tens of thousands of stores?

We forgot that the ones add up.

Grounding our leaders as well as myself in a more disciplined, detail-oriented mind-set…down from the 30,000 foot view and way of thinking about the business-was one of my earliest challenges….”When you start a business, you do not operate from a lofty place because you cannot afford to,” I explained to a roomful of our top leaders one day. “It is vitally important that we get back to the roots of the business, that we get back in the mud,” I declared spontaneously. “Get our hands in the mud!” I literally pleaded, hold my hands out in front of me. I held onto this analogy because it made so much sense, and from that day on I repeated it over and over and over, to people on every level.

In fact, one day when I was walking through the offices of Starbucks’ architects and designers, I stopped in my tracks when a poster caught my eye. A pair of dirt-smudged hands, palms up, framed the words, “The world belongs to the few people who are not afraid to get their hands dirty.” I ask to borrow the poster and marched it to the eighth floor, where I placed it on the wall of our boardroom so Starbucks’ executive team would see it every time we met.

The words-get dirty. Get in the mud. Get back to the roots of the business-cascaded down through the organization. I think that people could relate to them at a visceral level and immediately understand what they had to do differently. Not that they always did it, but an expectation had been set.

Great thoughts for us leaders of families, churches, non-profits, and businesses! May I encourage you, as you enter 2022, to take a hard look at where you are allowing the broader sense of “success” to blind you to the detailed, dirty “one’s” that largely determine the ultimate viability and vitality of your organization.

Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul, Howard Schultz with Joanne Gordon, 97-98.

Photo by Sandie Clarke on Unsplash