business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Yesterday, while out running errands, I went into our local Starbucks to pick up a latte for Mrs. Content Guy.  I'd ordered it via the mobile app, and was told that it would be ready at 12:09 pm.

It wasn't.  I hung out in the store for about 10 minutes waiting for it to be ready.

It was a mild annoyance, but I could tell the lone barista was working hard to keep up.  

I also noticed that the floor was pretty dirty.  Again, a mild annoyance.  But there weren't a lot of employees working, and so I just figured they didn't have enough staff to keep things clean.

But then I saw a sign behind the counter, and took a picture:

It seems to me that there are two things wrong with this sign.

If these Reserve Coffees have "just arrived," why are they sold out?

Why the hell is there a sign for "just arrived" Christmas blend posted on March 27?

I went home with the coffee and told Mrs. Content Guy about my experience.  We agreed that the delay and the dirt could be attributed to staffing issues, but then she said:

Those two are people problems.  But the sign is a stupid problem.

I agree.  I wouldn't blame the overworked staffers, though.  I'd blame whoever is the store's manager, and I'd blame whoever the division managers are - they should be in the store and paying attention to such things.

They may be in the store, but they clearly are not paying attention.

I'm tempted here to suggest that Howard Schultz would blame this on Kevin Johnson (who both followed him and then preceded him as CEO), but that would be to focus too much on the past.

Today, Laxman Narasimhan is the Starbucks CEO.

He's made a big deal about how he wants to streamline the number of cups and lids, the variety of which he sees as unworkable, and how he plans to work in the stores as a barista once a month so he can stay in touch with the front lines.

All of which is fine, but it doesn't address what I would call the nobody-gives-a-damn syndrome that I think this Eye-Opening sign reflects.

Last week's story about Narasimhan finally taking over the CEO job quoted him as saying, “Why it is so aggravating to get a 'simple' cup of coffee," suggesting that is something he wants to address.

One MNB reader wrote:

The only "simple cup of coffee" served at Starbucks is a “drip” coffee, which is a small percentage of total drinks….

The point being that maybe the new CEO is focused on the wrong things. Part of the problem at Starbucks is that 7 out of 10 drinks ordered are cold drinks, which the stores are not built to make and serve at that volume.  Simple cups of hot black coffee simply aren’t the real issue.

The real issue, I'd argue now, is nobody-gives-a-damn syndrome.

One more point, if I may.

The retailers reading this story and seeing that sign ought to take it to heart, and immediately go out and walk their stores.  Don't take it for granted that your stores don't suffer from nobody-gives-a-damn syndrome.  Go find out.  Check out every sign, every wall, every aisle and every department.

Take pictures.  Make sure the problems get fixed.  And see the problems not as a product of lackadaisical employees, but as a result of your own leadership.  It is easy to blame others, and much harder to take the responsibility.  But if you do the latter, and double-down on creating a culture that actually gives a damn, then that will be some level of leadership.