Troubling Exits at Microsoft


BusinessWeek has an article called Troubling Exits at Microsoft that talks about how Microsoft employees are leaving to move to other companies such as Google. There are quotes from employees such as “There’s a distinct lack of passion, we’re missing some spunk”. Quite interesting considering the place Microsoft used to be, where highly qualified people clamoured to work there.

Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup At A Time

Pour Your Heart into It : How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time The last post talked about my opinion of the three things I find extremely important for a company to do in order to succeed. It was initiated by the treatment that I had received the previous day at Starbucks and a posting by Jason Kottke. The timing could not have been better for Tom The Architect to recommend I read the book Pour Your Heart into It : How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, the inspring story by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz on how he built the Starbucks brand and business on – you guessed it – the three things mentioned in my previous posting.

The book begins talking about Howards childhood and the origins of his drive to succeed being based on his fathers unhappiness and hardships supporting his family. We go through college with Howard and his first job, as a salesman, on to his first exposure to Starbucks corporation, a coffee roasting company dedicated to bringing fine coffees to its customers. Howard is completely caught up in the passion that the company owners have, and persue them to hire him as an employee. Finally, after a lot of convincing on Howards part, they hired him.

We then go to Milan, where Howard is first exposed to the espresso bar. He is captivated by the environment which these bars create and takes an idea back to the Starbucks owners to begin opening espresso bars in the Seattle area to recreate the environment he encountered in Milan. The owners of the company are resistant to the idea, fearing it will comprimise the standards they have set for themselves in being the finest coffee roasters in the Seattle area.

Finally, Howard decides to leave Starbucks and start his own company running his own authentic espresso bars in the Seattle area. His Il Giornale stores are highly successful. By the time Howard has 3 stores (to Starbucks 6), the owners of Starbucks decide to put the company up for sale and Il Giornale buys the company, changing it’s name to Starbucks.

The remainder of the book chronicles the building of the Starbucks we know today and the journey from small entrepreneurial company to a large, multi-national, professionally managed one. The most amazing thing about the story was the adherance to the core values that the company was founded on and the unwavering belief that customers and the employees drive business success. The company is living proof that success (financial and otherwise) is a by-product of doing the right things for your customers. It is also is a very good example of how valueable a mission statement that articulates the values of the company can be as a “measuring stick” to help you make decisions.

Reading this book was a breath of fresh air for me. I highly recommend it as not only a fascinating story in general, but for the lessons in leadership that it offers. Howard Schultz is very honest about both the things he feels he did right and mistakes he thinks he’s made. He shares the heartbreak of being turned down for venture capitol, and the elation of succeeding in the business of his dreams. He explains some of the real challenging times he has had as CEO of Starbucks, the issues encountered when a company grows really quickly and the ways in which these issues were handled. He outlines his creation of a “leadership pipeline” and his long journey towards being able to let go of the details and finding people he trusted to take care of them as the company grew. Finally, he talks about the delicate balance between values and Wall Street, and the stress that the shareholders can bring to a business.

This is probably the best “business” book I’ve read in quite a while. It has everything you could possibly want in a book about leadership, vision, and values. I highly recommend it if you are looking for a truly inspiring story.

Reaching “Norm” Status – The Ultimate in Customer Service

An interesting thing happened to me in the local Starbucks the other day. I reached “Norm” status.

“Norm” status is what I call the point when dealing with a vendor (like a Starbucks, a local restaurant, a local bar, or even a web site) when you walk into the establishment and your order is started before you are asked what you are there for. They know you well enough to give you what you need with no effort on your part.

I coined the name from the TV show Cheers, where Norm would walk into the bar, everyone would yell “Norm!”, and by the time he sat down he had his beer in front of him – and his stool was always open and ready for him.

“Norm” status is the ultimate in customer service. It’s the point in the vendor/customer relationship where the customer feels they are important enough to pay attention to and they don’t have to work to get exactly what they want.

In a conversation with Tom the Architect yesterday talking about good web sites, I realized that one of the reasons I like so much is that I have reached “Norm” status with them. As soon as I log in, they tell me what they recommend. If I need to find something, I can find it in a matter of minutes. I never spend more then ten minutes on Amazon without finding exactly what I need and the status of where my order is with them. I never walk away disappointed or with unmet expectations – and I rarely log out without having placed an order for exactly what I want, and knowing approximately when I’ll get it.

“Norm” status is the ultimate in customer service. It is personalization at its finest and it makes the customer feel important. The more the customer feels important and gets what he wants (or at least knows he can’t get it), the more he or she will return because you’ve treated them well.

After reading Jason Kottke’s My Business Influences I started thinking about the things that I think make businesses great. I came up with three things:

  • Values – Running business according to your values rather than making revenue the primary value. This is a lot of what Jason was talking about
  • “Norm” status – Making the customer feel wanted and important. Personalization of experience and the customer walking out of your business thinking you “know” them is very important to repeat business
  • Integrating into the customers life, rather than making them work to integrate you. Amazon does this really well. Not only do they become part of my buying life because they treat me well, but because of their service enabled system, I have the ability to reuse their store at the application level. I can integrate them into things like WordPress that I use in every day life. Because they integrate into my every day life so invisibly, I automatically default to using them because they are there – not because I have to think “Gee, maybe I’ll check Amazon”. This integration into my every day life and tools creates opportunity for them to receive referral business from me when I find a book or product I like and want to recommend it to others. This effects their overall revenue numbers.

I believe these three principles are a few of the keys to a businesses success. The core values must be centered around the customer. The customer has to feel important. Finally, you have to be present in their lives without them having to think about it, by integrating into the things they do every day.

These three things should be what goals are built around. Revenue should never be the primary goal of a business, because in my opinion it is a natural side effect, or by-product, of satisfying these three core principles.

Now … if you’ll excuse me, I can use a Venti-triple-shot-skim-no-whip-mocha now.