Earlier this month, Starbucks named its new CEO, five months after Howard Schultz took over for the third time. Schultz made it clear he did not intend to stay long, and the company announced that Laxman Narasimhan would take over as CEO on April 1, 2023

In the meantime, Schultz made a lot of changes you wouldn't normally expect from an interim CEO, unless that person also happens to be the person who built the company in the first place. According to Schultz, Starbucks had "lost its way." 

It wasn't the first time, either. Schultz talked about a point in the company's history 14 years ago, and how it mirrored what is happening at the company today:

There was something else going on at Starbucks. And we have to be honest about what happened and what we learned. And that was a disease entered the company in 2008 and it was hubris. It was hubris in which the company was chasing, measuring, and rewarding the wrong things -- the stock price, comp store sales, operational efficiency -- at the expense of the customer. And Starbucks lost its way.

That disease -- hubris -- affects almost every business in some way, and it can be fatal. You have to at least give the company, and Schultz, credit for recognizing it. 

In response, Schultz's first move on the job was to cancel $20 billion in stock buybacks. He spent a lot of time talking about how Starbucks needed to reinvent itself. The company also said it would begin offering NFTs as a part of its Starbucks Rewards program.

A week ago, the company finally rolled out Schultz's reinvention plan. "We're not reinventing what we do," he said during the company's Investor Day last Tuesday. "We're just reinventing how we do it."

It turns out, that's an important lesson -- and not just for Starbucks. You see, one of the biggest problems facing the world's largest coffee retailer is that its most popular products are, well, too popular. Especially cold and frozen drinks.

Those now make up 70 percent of its orders. Customizing those drinks with, say, an extra shot of espresso contributes $1 billion in sales alone. And they just keep getting more popular. A Wall Street Journal story earlier this month said that many cafés that used to average 1,200 drinks a day now make 1,500

That sounds great, but while frozen and cold drinks are incredibly popular, they don't scale. They're far more complicated to make, requiring more steps and more time. Making a lot of them, at least the way they're made now, is a problem.

The ideal situation is to have a product that becomes more efficient to make the more you sell. Software, for example, is something you spend a lot of money to make, but it costs you basically zero to sell every additional copy. That's pretty efficient. 

In a coffee shop, a cup of hot coffee requires you to brew a pot only once and then just pour out a cup every time someone orders one. One pot might serve 30 or 40 cups, which is a pretty good effort-to-customer ratio. Then you just make another pot and you're good for another 40 customers.

On the other hand, making 30 frozen drinks means making each one by hand. Not to mention that each drink can be customized and requires multiple ingredients and a blender. That's a bigger deal than you think, because you only have so many blenders, and every time you have to make a drink, you have to move to the blender. It's a lot of work.

And so, Starbucks is rolling out a new blender. Sort of. It's actually testing a whole new design to its stores, and making changes to better accommodate what its customers want while making it easier for its partners (the Starbucks term for its employees) to do their job. It calls it the Siren System.

"The Siren System is designed to simplify tasks across both our beverage and food platforms," said chief operating officer John Culver. "It improves quality and consistency while creating the capacity to meet the growing demands for customization across both hot, cold beverages as well as warming our food."

One of the hardest things for any business is the realization that the thing that made it successful has become its biggest problem. And no amount of success can cover up a business that can't scale. In fact, it's more likely to make it worse. If your problem is that your business can't scale, the more successful you are, the bigger that problem gets.

Clearly, if you run a retail food service location, being busy is a good thing. You make money only when you're selling drinks, for example. But if your staff can't keep up with the demand, it creates a poor experience for customers. Eventually, those customers will go somewhere else, which is obviously a bad thing. 

It's especially bad when your employees can't keep up even when they're doing everything right. Even when they do exactly what they're supposed to do and work as fast as they can, if the processes and systems you put into place create a barrier to serving customers, you have a big problem.

There's another lesson here, which is that sometimes the solution to your biggest problem is a lot more simple than you might think. That's not to say that designing a new way of making drinks is simple, but if you can solve part of the problem by providing your employees with something as basic as a different type of blender, that seems like a no-brainer to me.

"Work faster" is a terrible thing to say to someone who doesn't have what they need to do their job. Maybe it's time to stop trying to get your team to work harder or faster, and time for you to work harder to give them what they need.