I won’t lie — being able to work where you want, when you want is a wonderful thing.
Because I have that freedom, I usually only go to my office when I’m producing a Webinar. Other than that, I’ve found that Starbucks is a great place to open up the laptop and get some work done. For one thing, it’s almost always, clean, bright, lively and accommodating. By this, I mean it’s a nice place to work with a positive vibe — and they actually want you there (or, at the very least, don’t seem to mind you).
Luckily, I’ve got a very nice one a few miles from where I live. I also meet Kate at one about halfway between where we live once a week. Interestingly, though just about all Starbucks stores are operated by the company itself (as opposed to independently owned and operated franchises) the experiences in these stores are quite different.
More than a few people have asked me about working in such places: “Don’t you get distracted with all the activity?” The truth is that I do, but perhaps I’m the kind of person who likes being distracted, who needs for his mind to jump around every so often. I certainly believe I’m the kind of person who enjoys observing things, and what I’ve observed in these two Starbucks locations has been fascinating.
The location near my house is extremely well run, clean, friendly and efficient, while the location where I meet Kate is a notch above tolerable. Having closely watched the activity of the staff, I can tell you it all comes down to that critical element most of us study and wish to excel at: leadership.
By my house, there is Kelly — a delightful woman who greets just about every customer by name and with a smile. She is in constant motion, in the trenches with the team, cleaning not just the tables but the bathrooms, and offering congratulations to her staff when they get through a particularly heavy influx of customers.
Either by hiring or training (likely a combination of both), Kelly has built a staff that not only supports each other at work but socializes outside of it. I believe many of them have become genuine friends. I’m not sure if Kelly partakes in these activities, but it is clear that whatever familiarity she has permitted to grow among them does not put her authority into question. (This is always a neat trick, if it can be pulled off. George Washington chose to keep everyone at arm’s length to emphasize his position.) She is unquestionably the boss, and I have seen how her rare critical feedback to the staff is taken with extreme seriousness.
Interestingly, at the other store, I truly can’t quite tell who the manager is. It could be one of perhaps two or three possibilities, but that fact that I don’t know from observation is telling. If I can’t tell who is calling the tune, perhaps the staff can’t hear it, and maybe that is why instead of always looking for what needs to be done next, they use free moments to complain about what they are supposed to be doing. And they do this within easy earshot of customers.
In my Starbucks, it is a culture of the team (including Kelly) working together to create a high-functioning store. In the other Starbucks, it seems to be a case of disgruntled employees working against both management and the customers. Nobody there has every called me by name, though I’ve been meeting Kate there once a week for five years. This is likely because they don’t care, and because staff turnover has been very high.
Am I distracted from my work as I watch Kelly whirl around the store? Yes, but I’m learning more about management and leadership than I could from most books. I told her the other day she should invent a Gordon Ramsey “Kitchen Nightmare’s” role for herself in the company, in which she’s go around to Starbucks that needed fixing to diagnose the problems and administer the solutions.
“I’d love it!” she said. “I think I’d be really good at that.”
No doubt, and I know just where her first assignment should be.