If you know me at

by francine Hardaway on July 7, 2004

If you know me at all, you know I hold most of my “power” meetings at Starbucks near the Ritz in Phoenix. But I’ve also visited Starbucks in Tempe, Pacifica, Palo Alto, Boxford, MA, New York, Rotorua, New Zealand, all the airports — you get the picture. I have a sixth sense for where they are. I have a Duetto card that automatically reloads, and a habit that costs about $150 a month. I was a beta tester of the Frappacino lite.

More important, I sent my entrepreneurial education students to see Howard Schulz last year when he appeared with the Phoenix Suns. In fact, I sent my entire “audience” — all of you who read this blog. Why? Because I believe that Starbucks is one of the best companies on the planet right now.

I have closely examined the culture of Starbucks from the outside, and with my experience in branding, I’ve watched them develop and manage the brand as “the third place” after home and work. Starbucks is a textbook project for a branding class. Their training rocks. Their employees know how to exceed customer expectations. In Starbucks, people smile at you at 7 AM before you’ve had your morning coffee, and they give it to you as you like it without you even asking.

So when they terminated Amanda I was stunned. Amanda is my foster daughter, the star of my book “Foster Mom,” in which she is called Angie. Amanda is the big success of my foster parenting career; a solid citizen who pays her bills, doesn’t do drugs, and wants to go to college. Not in jail. Not on welfare.

Starbucks was her first “real” job. In fact, it was the first job anyone in her family had ever held; she comes from a family of drug addicts and welfare recipients, and she has left them far, far, behind. To her, Starbucks was a dream job: a place to smile at her friends and neighbors and be happy with life. I watched her grow in the job, and I thanked God for Starbucks.

She had been there seven months. She learned how to balance her register. She learned how to be happy in the morning even if she had to get up at 4:30 AM; she learned how to interact with businesspeople. She learned how to work as part of a team, and she learned a work ethic. She got a raise, and she had a good enough dental benefit to get her teeth cleaned and her cavities filled FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HER LIFE.

She had friends at Starbucks, especially among the customers, some of whom told her she “made their mornings.” She would come home from work at noon excited about how well she had done and how much she had cleaned up behind her lazier teammates.

Then her store, the one on the southwest corner of 24th Street and Camelback, got a new manager. He came from Seattle. He told everyone he goes by the book. He wrote Amanda up for tardiness a couple of times. Those times might even have been partly my fault, as I often try to give her instructions in the morning as she’s running out the door to her job.

Last weekend, I went out of town to a family wedding that Amanda, who has been with our family for twelve years, couldn’t attend because she had to work. When I returned, I learned from her brother that she had been terminated. She was ashamed; afraid to tell me.

The next morning, I went to talk to her manager. I said to him, “as you know from reading my book, I’m trying to help Amanda and her brother. Could you spend a few minutes with me telling me why you terminated her?”

“Sure, “he said cheerfully. (He’s about 28; I’m easily old enough to be his mother. We sat down. “I set very high expectations for my employees,” he said, “and Amanda had three tardies.”

I was stunned. I wanted to punch him out. “You jerk,” I said internally. “You fired a person all the customers liked because she was seven minutes late? What about customer satisfaction, what about the cost of turnover, what about managers as developers of their employees?”

To his face I said, “Really?”

“You know, when I was a manager at Intel if we had that sort of problem with an employee we would put him or her on a corrective plan, but not terminate them. In my management training I learned how costly it is to terminate and re-hire. So I’m betting there’s something else about Amanda’s performance that was the REAL cause of her termination. If you would just share it with me, I could help her understand.”

“Nope, ” he said cheerfully. “Just a lack of punctuality. Four times. Sometimes as much as seven minutes.”

“Thank you, ” I said, forcing back the tears. As I walked home, I wondered what to tell Amanda the lesson was from all this.

It took me a while to figure it out, and when I did, it was far more cynical and less favorable to Starbucks than I had hoped.

“Panda,” I told her. “Your customer is not the person who pays for the coffee. It’s the manager behind the bar. And if your manager goes strictly by the book, make sure you read the book.”

I’m so bummed. Turns out the Starbucks brand may be bullshit after all. But I’d like to think it’s just one uncreative manager.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Dentists Abilene January 17, 2010 at 11:47 pm

Very interesting post. I hope that managers aren't like that person you've mentioned.

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