Howard Behar is now retired from his position at a coffee house. But, he surprisingly was not a barista.

For years, Howard served as the president of Starbucks International. When he took the helm, Starbucks International had 28 locations. When he retired, they had 15,000.

By any measure, his story is one of success. But, that doesn't mean that he didn't face challenges and tough decisions along the way.

I had the good fortune to interview Howard recently (the podcast is embedded below). He offered insight that served as a masterclass on culture and what motivates people.

His latest book, The Magic Cup, is a parable that embodies so many of Howard's brilliant lessons that helped Starbucks attain legendary growth. It's a business book wrapped in the tapestry of a fantasy story.

Behar uses the characters in the book to illustrate the keys to success, culture, and building a sense of community.

Stay Connected

Howard made it a priority to know about each employee, about their families, and about their personal goals. He made it a point to connect how Starbucks could help them reach those goals.

His philosophy, quite simply, comes down to respect and love for each other. Howard shares, "Every business has a culture, whether you know it or not. Culture doesn't come from an email or a mission statement, culture is something you live."

Staying connected with employees in dozens of stores would be tough enough. How could Howard possibly maintain his tight connection with employees as the company grew from 28 to 15,000 global locations?

Make Culture Intentional

As the company grew rapidly, Howard quickly realized that despite his desire to maintain personal contact with each employee, it would not be possible for him to do so. He knew, however, that someone had to maintain that tightness of relationships.

Howard ensured that each territory manager knew everyone within that territory. Howard knew that the territory was too large if a manager lost track of details about even one employee.

Each employee knew that someone in management knew them, their family, and their goals. When the employee knows that the company cares about them, then the employee can freely care about the customer.

When the customer and the community feel connected to the business, then the business thrives.

Measure What Matters

You'd expect a company like Starbucks to have a system for growing each location. Howard and I discussed how they measured success in the regions.

I was surprised that employees were not recognized for selling more coffee or pastries.

Instead, employees received recognition for doing something special for another employee, a customer, or the community. Howard explained that if you treat everyone with respect and demonstrate care in the community, the numbers work themselves out.

Build The Right Team

Howard shared that he went from having thousands of US employees in Starbucks to building his new International team from scratch. He needed to build his team, and he started interviewing internal candidates.

Howard approached a finance person, David, who he thought could be his CFO. Howard explained that he intended to use Starbucks coffee to build bridges to people around the world.

In response, David asked:

  1. What would be his new title?
  2. What kind of raise would he get?

Howard concluded that David was not the right person.

Ultimately, Howard described his same vision to Troy Alstead. Troy asked, "How can I help make it happen?"

Troy got the job, and eventually became the president of the company. Howard attributes Troy's success to his clear attachment to the broader purpose of serving others.

See The Big Picture

Consider that Starbucks has built a business valued at over $75 billion by focusing on people and communities, not coffee.

Howard's insights about culture, growth, and leadership are based on care and compassion and putting people and values first. Compare that to struggling companies who focus on cost management and organizational charts.

I have no doubt that if you met Howard, he'd happily serve you a Magic Cup of your beverage of choice--delivered with the care, love, and respect that would rival the one you get from your favorite barista.

It's Your Turn

What great examples do you see that foster great business cultures? Join the discussion in the comments on on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Published on: Sep 15, 2016