This Week in Culture

Your Organizational Success Can Learn From Tough Love 

Sometimes tough love is what you need to break free from mediocrity. Just ask Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, who got a face-full of it from none other than Steve Jobs. Back in 2008, during a critical time for Starbucks, Schultz sought advice from Jobs and got more than he bargained for. Jobs didn’t just offer a few tips; he told Schultz to fire his entire leadership team. And he didn’t whisper it—he screamed it in Schultz’s face. 

Why was Schultz in this situation to begin with? He returned to Starbucks in 2008, right before this conversation with Jobs, to revive the company culture that had lost its edge. Starbucks, once the darling of the coffee world, was faltering. In 2007, just before the financial crisis, the company had started to stumble, committing a series of commercial missteps and losing sight of its core values. The result? Starbucks closed 900 stores, laid off hundreds of employees, and watched its share price plummet by 40%. 

As CEO, Schultz’s first move upon his return was to reignite the company culture. He believed that Starbucks had “forgotten what we stand for.” This began with a dramatic gesture: shutting down all Starbucks stores for three and a half hours to retrain employees on the company’s mission and values. Following this, all 10,000 store managers were sent on a gathering to rediscover their sense of mission and purpose. 

But it wasn’t enough. Insert Jobs. Jobs’ message was clear: if you want to turn things around, you’ve got to be willing to make big, bold moves. This wasn’t just about changing personnel; it was about transforming the culture from the top down. Schultz’s initial hesitation and eventual agreement with Jobs highlight a crucial leadership lesson—sometimes, a total reset is the only way to align your team with your vision and goals. 

For any organization, Jobs’ message is a wake-up call. It shows that maintaining a strong, cohesive leadership team is essential for driving the cultural changes needed for lasting success. If your leadership is out of sync with your company’s core values and strategic objectives, it’s time to take action. 

Jobs’ advice wasn’t just a rant. It was about instilling accountability and establishing a clear, unwavering vision for Starbucks. For leaders looking to improve their workplace culture, this approach can be transformative. You need to hold yourself and your team to the highest standards, making sure everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals. 

Jobs was all about continuous improvement. By telling Schultz to overhaul his team, he was advocating for a culture where complacency is a dirty word and growth is a constant goal.  

Jobs didn’t sugarcoat it: “F****** fire all those people,” he told Schultz, screaming in his face. Schultz pushed back, “Steve, I can’t fire all these people. Who’s going to do the work?” But Jobs was relentless: “I promise you in six months, maybe nine, they’ll be gone.” And he was right. Except for one—the general counsel—they were all gone within that time frame. Schultz had ignored Jobs’ advice initially, but the leadership team he tried to save eventually dwindled away. 

Later, Schultz met Jobs at an event and admitted he had been right. Jobs’ response? “Well, you’re six months, nine months late. Think about all the things you could’ve done.” This encounter underscores a vital lesson: aligning leadership actions with organizational goals is crucial for achieving your strategic vision and driving business results. Schultz had to make some tough calls, letting go of trusted leaders who no longer fit the company’s evolving needs. 

Howard Schultz and Steve Jobs’ story isn’t just a tale of corporate drama. It’s a lesson in bold leadership and the power of a strong, accountable workplace culture. By embracing these principles, leaders can drive their organizations toward better alignment, engagement, and success. 

Schultz’s journey and failure to listen shows that sometimes you have to make hard decisions and embrace radical change to achieve excellence. With a clear vision and a commitment to accountability, leaders can create a thriving workplace culture that supports growth and innovation. 

So, take a cue from Jobs. Ask yourself if you’re ready to make the tough calls to align your team with your strategic goals. Your workplace culture, and your business success, might just depend on it. 

Elsewhere In Culture

Have you heard about this week’s Chick-fil-A Restaurants “controversy?” I was just on NewsNation talking about Chick-fil-A’s summer camp for kids and the mixed reactions it has sparked. This camp gives children aged 5-12 a behind-the-scenes look at the fast-food industry. Social media reactions are up in arms calling it “child labor,” but this is clearly not the case. There’s a bigger story to tell around company culture, and the camp sold out quickly, showing strong support from families. 

As workplace culture evolves, it’s interesting to see how companies like Chick-fil-A engage with the next generation. Check out the clip to see why I think Chick-fil-A is in the spotlight. 

I had the chance to chat with Neil Cavuto on Cavuto: Coast to Coast about the incredible work ethics of Judge Judy and NVIDIA’s CEO, Jensen Huang. It was fascinating to hear how Jensen Huang admitted that even when he’s watching movies, his mind is still on business. 

In breaking down what they shared, it’s clear that the line between work and personal time is getting blurrier. Judge Judy and Jensen Huang’s stories show us just how much dedication it takes to stay at the top of your game. It’s a great reminder to reflect on our own work habits and how they fit into the bigger picture of modern work life. To hear more about my thoughts on this, check out the clip linked above! 

And speaking of Nvidia… 

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang has a no one-on-one meetings rule for his 55 direct reports

Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang’s unique management style offers a fresh take on improving workplace culture. By skipping one-on-one meetings with his 55 direct reports, Huang keeps his schedule clear and promotes efficiency and transparency within the team. This strategy ensures everyone is on the same page, empowering employees through shared information rather than exclusive, secretive knowledge. Huang’s approach highlights the value of open communication and trust, creating an agile and responsive work environment that aligns perfectly with Culture Partners’ belief in the power of a well-defined, intentional culture. 

This trend isn’t just happening at Nvidia. Other companies, like Pandora and Shopify, are also cutting down on unnecessary meetings to focus on what truly matters. By doing so, they create a culture that values efficiency and empowers employees to be more productive and engaged. Huang’s approach is a great example of how simplifying communication can lead to a more dynamic workplace, reflecting the principles we champion at Culture Partners. When leaders prioritize meaningful interactions and clear communication, they foster a culture that drives better results and keeps employees motivated and aligned with the company’s goals. 

If you want people to genuinely care, you need to change their beliefs, not only their actions.

I’ve been approached by countless CEOs and leaders, all expressing a shared frustration: despite reminding, urging, and implementing perks and benefits, they face a stark lack of genuine engagement.

This is precisely what we refer to as the “Action Trap.” The Action Trap occurs when leaders find themselves in a continuous cycle of implementing new processes and systems (taking new actions) to change results, rather than addressing the underlying experiences that lead to those results. Our beliefs stem from our experiences.

So, if you want to instill a new belief, you need to create a new experience.

That’s the key to making people care.

This week on #CultureLeaders, my guest is Jean Gomes, CEO of Outside Consulting. Jean is a trusted advisor to global giants like Nike and Microsoft, and many of the world’s most successful leaders to harness the power of mindset to achieve better results.  
In this episode, we talk about the neuroscience behind successful leadership tactics, how perceptions can shape reality, and personal development. 
Tune in to the full episode here:

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