A Cup of Culture - Learning from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz

As a young kid from Brooklyn, Howard Schultz was deeply impacted by watching his father struggle when he became injured on the job. With no workers’ compensation and no health insurance provided by his employer, he was fired – putting the family in financial turmoil.

As Schultz rose to become one of the most powerful CEOs in the country, this experience stayed with him. It’s what drove him to create a corporate culture with a goal of impacting the lives of employees over profits. It was an unorthodox approach, but it helped him honor his employees the way his father wasn’t, and it took Starbucks to the top of the industry.  

While we can learn so much from his life of leadership at Starbucks, let’s break down three lessons from Schultz that will give us insight into how this employee culture was not only created, but maintained against all odds.  

Stay True to the Core Values

When Schultz took over the company, he wanted to create a set of values, guiding principles and an over-arching company culture where the success was shared with everyone, no matter who they were in the chain of command and where they came from. These core values focused on long-term value for everyone, employee and customer alike, as opposed to short-term financial success for investors.

By creating a purposeful culture, the company would see higher productivity, increased morale and, ultimately, increased revenue. This culture was going to be created by not compromising on values and by putting a premium on his people and their behaviors over profits.

Your Employees Matter

From the very beginning, it was important to Schultz to take care of his employees. He knew that the success of the company wouldn’t be found in advertising and marketing. It would be found in the people that served the customers. By creating a culture for those employees to thrive, he knew they’d find success.

Starbucks was the first company to give comprehensive health insurance to every employee that worked 20 hours. Employees became partners and were encouraged to treat everything within their stores as if it was their own.

Great benefits were key to keeping these employees engaged. Even when times were tough during the financial crisis, Starbucks continued to stay true to these employees and were committed to providing benefits packages. The allure of saving $250,000,000 by taking away employee benefits didn’t stop them from providing support for their employees. They stayed committed to employees and refused to be compromised.

Leadership is About Transparency and Truth

A company’s culture begins at the top and trickles down to everyone in the building. It’s leadership by example. According to Schultz, he defines that leadership as creating a vision and then creating followers. It’s not pushing people to come with you. It’s bringing them along on the journey because you’re committed to them. The currency of this leadership, he says, is transparency and truth.

Transparency helps leaders build more of a relationship with their employees, which in turn creates more respect for the company and a willingness to go along with changes. In addition, being truthful with employees and investing in them creates a reciprocal relationship that pays off in the long run. When leadership makes creating a positive corporate culture a priority, employees feel it. They not only chose to stay with you but thrive in their roles. They’ll also spread the word and help you attract talented prospects!

Krista Lindholm

Krista Lindholm is a Business Development Manager at Oasis, a Paychex® Company. Krista is a seasoned sales professional with extensive experience in consulting with small to mid-size businesses in Central Iowa. She creates long-term relationships built on an authentic approach that generates repeat relationships. Specialties: Human Resources Outsourcing, Payroll Administration, Benefits Administration.


October 9, 2018

Posted by

Krista Lindholm