Starbucks The Book: The Lighter Side of Corporate America

I was expecting a hard-core business book from It's Not About The Coffee, Howard Behar's look at lessons learned from his time at Starbucks (Behar started in 1989 when the company was still a small Northwest chain and resigned in 2003 when it had hundreds of stores globally).

It's Not About The Coffee is, surprisingly enough, a full-throttle call to bring empathy back into the workplace. Either Behar, former President of Starbucks International, has gone soft in his retirement or the Starbucks HQ isn't at all like your office i.e. people weren't robots.

INATC is divided into 10 chapters that follow The Green Apron Book that's given to all Starbucks employees to encourage personal leadership.

Behar is most interested in honesty, as it pertains to your values, goals and purpose, what drives you, what gives you passion. This, he says, should drive your professional career. Your motivation should always be what's right for you, not your CV, thus bringing success to the company and personal satisfaction to yourself.

His chapter on caring, though it seems fluffy, gave me occasion for reflection. Too often, I find workplaces focus on the bottom line, the immediate problem, the petty gossip. What would our office look like if we focused on caring about one another, about the job at hand? Of course that would require each of us to be honest about why we were at a particular job, to be courageous to reach for what we really wanted.

Too often we're obsessed with our inner narrative, of our starring role in a make-shift drama. Behar said we need to practice 'compassionate emptiness' - this really resonated with me. If I could empty a good deal of my thoughts, what potential could I have to connect with people and really engage with the task at hand?

Behar also offers up insights into the Starbucks that we know and love (or at least I do, beats out crappy Second Cup and Timothy's any day in quality). For example, all Starbucks stores open 10 minutes ahead of opening time in order to avoid anxious coffee drinkers having to come face to face with closed (and unwelcoming) doors.

Behar also tries to make a case for commercial coffee culture and here he is less successful. He doesn't want to make people wait in line (his reasoning for automating the machines) and if there's a demand, he says absolutely it should be met (expanding from traditional coffee drinks to Frappucinos and their ilk).
I'm sure Slow Food would have a lot of say about the alienation caused by being distanced from the origins of what we consume, as well as not having the time to truly sit down and enjoy it.

As long as you don't try to look at It's Not About the Coffee as possible justification for the Starbucks mandate but a valid look at the value of people, and people first, at any corporation, you'll get more than you bargained for.

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