Starbucks’ Howard Schultz on the Importance of a Business Mission

Photo by Hans Vivek on Unsplash

I really like this quote below from Howard Schultz, executive chairman and former CEO of Starbucks, on the importance of a business mission, and how they used both a top-down and bottom-up process to ensure inclusiveness when developing their strategic framework. Note that what Schultz was seeking first and foremost was an expression of guiding values and beliefs to frame a shared purpose and behaviour that would resonate and give meaning to Starbucks’ people and their aspirations.

The excerpt is from his book Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time (Hyperion, 1999: 131).

From the beginning, I wanted employees to identify with the mission of the company and to have the sense of accomplishment that goes with being part of a successful team. That meant defining a strong sense of purpose and listening to input from people at all levels of the enterprise.

Early in 1990, we as a senior executive team carefully examined our values and beliefs and then drafted a Mission Statement at an off-site retreat. Our aim was to articulate a powerful message of purpose and translate that into a set of guidelines to help us gauge the appropriateness of each decision we make, at all levels of the company. We submitted a draft to everyone else at Starbucks for review and made changes based on those comments. The Mission Statement that emerged from that process puts people first and profits last. It’s not a trophy to decorate our office walls, but an organic body of beliefs, not a list of aspirations but a foundation of guiding principles we hold in common….

Drafting the Mission Statement was just the first step in a strategic planning process that lasted three months and involved more than fifty employees. We wanted to make sure we in management were hearing the views of our co-workers – and to ensure we had a long-term plan that our people had helped to shape.

Here is the Starbucks Mission Statement and guiding principles that resulted from the process, circa 1999:

Establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles as we grow. The following six guiding principles will help us measure the appropriateness of our decisions:

Provide a great work environment and treat each other with respect and dignity.

Embrace diversity as an essential component in the way we do business.

Apply the highest standards of excellence to the purchasing, roasting, and fresh delivery of our coffee.

Develop enthusiastically satisfied customers all of the time.

Contribute positively to our communities and our environment.

Recognize that profitability is essential to our future success.

Starbucks has since changed its mission statement so that it no longer says anything about its core product being coffee:

To inspire and nurture the human spirit, one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

Inspiring the human spirit of each customer is a much more engaging, important, and long-lasting purpose than merely selling coffee. It is top-line focused on creation of the future rather than bottom-line focused on past results.

This is a great example of a value-driven purpose and value-driven culture in which the mission must conform to deeply held overlapping shared values, rather than vice versa, creating situational-specific guiding values that reflect the current corporate operating culture to serve the mission and shared interests of the Starbucks community.

Barry Linetsky is a Partner with The Strategic Planning Group, a Toronto-based consultancy. He is the author of The Business of Walt Disney and the Nine Principles of His Success (Theme Park Press, 2017) and Free Will: Sam Harris Has It (Wrong). His articles have been published by Ivey Business Journal and Rotman Magazine. Visit his website to find original articles and blog posts on Walt Disney and other management topics. Follow Barry on Twitter @BizPhilosopher and on LinkedIn.

© 2017, Barry L. Linetsky. All Rights Reserved

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