Leadership Lesson Uncategorised

5 simple lessons – Build a culture, the Starbucks way

I have always been fascinated by Starbucks. Who is not? I am a coffee addict, and what better place to have those gazillion start-up meetings and those brain storming sessions other than Starbucks. The Wi-Fi is incidental, and so are the Espresso-double shots. What fascinated me is the experience in a Starbucks that is consistent – it does not matter whether I am in San Francisco or Singapore, Bangkok or Bali, Hanoi or Hyderabad, it is the amazingly same experience with the Baristas.

Being an entrepreneur myself and also having managed global organizations in the past, I have always been curious and passionate about building cultures. I believe that building a strong positive culture is one of the sustainable ways to makes an organisation successful – short-medium and long term. I also believe that culture plays, a bigger role on impact than building a skill-set.

A strong ‘culture’ in an organization might take a long time for it to show, as it needs to be ingrained into the DNA of the organisation. Unlike a skill, that can be incorporated by training its workforce at any point, culture requires continuous focus from the moment of an employee joins the organisation. The employee is exposed to a ‘ways of the world here’, and pretty much adopts that particular way as their own.

It is in this context, that I wish to use the Starbucks example. What makes Starbucks do something that is so insanely simple and yet, delightfully magical? It is not their covfefe for sure!

Every employee that joins Starbucks, is given a small 4″X5″ ‘the green apron book’ on the first day with the company. In a simple lucid way this booklet explains the culture of Starbucks. Since this culture is immediately manifested across the organisation, it is easy for the new employee to adapt and adopt these practices.

‘Culture drinks strategy for coffee’ Drucker would have said, had he seen Starbucks.

At Starbucks, every employee follows this green apron book, which has five values. These values can pretty much be applicable to any organisation. However Starbucks, has made it ingrained into their culture and not surprisingly it isas successful as what we see today.

1. Be welcoming:

Being welcoming helps people share their concerns openly without inhibitions. It helps customers return to the store repeatedly. It helps build a sense of belonging between people and share their thoughts openly. Such a simple phrase, when inculcated in a culture can put 1000 strategies to shame.

2. Be Genuine:

Being genuine is a simple way to ensure that everything, everyone does an organisation has a sense of connection to the other person. It helps establish trust between its employees and between its employees and customers. Being genuine means being responsive to the needs of others. We can call it by any other name, but these two words ‘be genuine’ puts it succinctly.

3. Be knowledgeable:

Love what you do, share it with others. Loving what you do is being knowledgeable on your job. When your knowledge is shared between yourselves and the community, the overall level of engagement increases.

4. Be considerate:

This is the way Starbucks ensures that everyone within the organisation and its customers have a sense of being cared for. This philosophy that drives Starbucks and I would think this is something every other organisation can adopt.

5. Be Involved:

When you’re involved with what you do, your productivity increases. You effectiveness improves. Imagine spreading it like in eponymic across your division, your company, and the community and you have a surefire answer to success.

 What makes Starbucks do something that is so insanely simple and yet, delightfully magical? It is not their covfefe for sure!

And these are not just posters on the wall, or some card at deep within the drawer.

Each one has a specific action items for each of these that can translate into everyday activities and they are described in the subsequent pages. It is easy to brush off saying they are just a company that sells coffee. Imagine yourself of a company that sells something as commonplace coffee and some becoming a global name for the coffee experience. And to add to that its beverages are not cheap. To attract that sort of a premium over something that could be domestically available, I believe requires definitely a good strategy, but more importantly a wonderful culture as described above. Wait is time for each of us to take a cue from here and see how it can help us.


Please do share your thoughts and feedback and I will be glad to learn from you.

The author is an entrepreneur with two decades of senior leadership experience in India and Asia-Pacific and now runs Futureshift, a boutique consulting outfit that helps businesses chart their digital marketing strategy with the @ZMOTly framework to achieve impactful outcomes. He is available at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *