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Refocusing on Your Keys to Success

Taking Your Eye Off the Ball does not have to be Fatal in Business


I love taking examples of management success and failure right from the pages of the newspaper.  This example is from the March 7th Wall Street Journal interview with Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks.  The coffee giant had been underperforming which resulted in the closing of hundreds of stores and worker layoffs.  But recently the company’s performance has improved and the Journal interviewer asked Mr. Schultz what led to the turnaround in the company’s performance.  His response is below (I added the emphasis):


“Putting our feet in the shoes of our customers, understanding what they were dealing with….”  “In addition to that, getting our own people to understand what was at stake and specifically asking them to be more accountable.  We were growing the company with such speed and aggression that we lost sight of the customer experience.”

There are two very critical concepts in Mr. Schultz’s comments.  The first is they lost sight of the customer experience.  This happens a lot in business.  Managers get so wrapped up in what they are doing or how they are doing it, that they forget the business only exists because a customer has chosen to buy their product or service.  This often-fatal memory lapse is one of the core mistakes made in business.  It really does not matter if it is ignorance or hubris that causes management to forget the customer, it impacts businesses at all levels.  To Mr. Shultz’s credit, he did not allow it to continue!

His ability to correct his management error in no small part can be traced to the other critical concept in his statement wherein he specifically asked his people to understand what was at stake and to be held accountable for the outcomes.  Being held accountable, in this case, means to ensure customers are getting what they expect from the Starbucks experience.  Having employees understand what is at stake, which is what we call “buy-in”, is frequently the element of effective management that is missed.  People perform their tasks at a higher level when the “why” is understood.  It gives the employee a stake in the company’s success.  They are part of the team doing good by the customer.

The Starbucks story is a remarkable one, they took a product — coffee — which was mundane and commodity-priced and convinced consumers that it was worth paying a premium price for it (and standing in line waiting to pay a premium price).  You do not want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs by failing to pay attention to customer needs!


2 Responses so far.

  1. DL this is very good information, most of the businesses need good coaching however they think they don’t need it. This is a good example. I tell my staff to put themselves in the ownership position and then make the same decision. Taking your eye off the ball can causes you to lose it all some time it depends on wheather you have enough runs in the game to overcome that mistake, error, turnouver, penalty. Hopefully you take your eye off the ball in the beginning of the game.

    • DLRogers says:

      Great points Rashad. Getting employees to think like an owner is the holy grail of management success. It does take more than saying “Think Like an Owner” to make it happen. But when it really happens you have a business that can substantially operate without ownership involvement. You have to have the right employees, the right management process, the right incentives for staff. You have got to love figuring this stuff out because staff and processes makes everything sooo much easier. In a speech I gave last week I made the point that someone in the company needs to be focused on the BUSINESS and NOT the Businesses’ Customers. If you as the owner loves working with the customer then you have to find someone that is very good to work the business.

      Thanks so much for your input.


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